When in-person school shut down due to COVID-19’s emergence, Ellie Park ’26 — then a sophomore at Briarcliff High School in Westchester, New York — decided to buy a sewing machine and filled the sudden pandemic-mandated free time in her schedule by teaching herself how to use it. Not only did she emerge from the pandemic with a new skill, but also with a viral fashion brand.
Park is the founder and owner of the fashion brand Ellie Grace Co., which she established in March 2020. In its early stages, Park focused on developing her business, handling everything individually from obtaining fabrics from the New York City Garment District to designing and marketing a website.
Park highlighted social media as a key tool for outreach that aided the growth of Ellie Grace, posting reels and stories on Instagram to attract and sustain followers. After several viral reels, Ellie Grace exploded in popularity, growing from 2,000 to a peak of 20,000 followers within the span of a week in February 2021. Less than a year after founding her brand, she sold out within minutes of her second drop.
“My Instagram reels just started going viral and doing well,” Park said. “It was so incredible sitting in Zoom class and refreshing my Instagram, and every hour or so, I would gain another 100 followers.”
To get to know her followers better and foster a community, Park would engage by asking questions on her Instagram reels about her followers’ cultures and inviting them to share about their personal lives.
“COVID was a very isolating time, which was really difficult for everyone. I used my business to be able to connect with people online,“ Park said. “I would get over 100 messages a day from young people all around the world telling me about their lives, their hardships and their mental health.”
Running a business in the early months of the pandemic presented some challenges, such as not being able to process returns. Park’s first launch was sold through bidding via Instagram to a fairly small audience made up of mostly friends and family. For later drops, Park switched to selling her clothes on Etsy and then Shopify.
“It was such a shock. I was honestly just really proud of myself for the nonstop work I had been putting in,” Park said, with regard to the launch. “As soon as everything sold out, I started getting so many messages asking for restocking, and asking if there were pre-orders available.”
Park recounted an early moment in her life that spurred her love for fashion when her uncle gifted her a light-up tracing box that she used to sketch clothing patterns. Since then, Park said that she has always enjoyed shopping and using platforms such as Pinterest to gather inspiration for designs. She credited thrifting for helping develop her style, and designers Ralph Lauren and Sandy Liang as influences.
Now a sophomore majoring in applied economics and management and minoring in fashion studies, Park is currently preparing for the fourth launch of Ellie Grace.
For her fourth launch, Park will continue to operate individually, making each of the pieces herself. However, given the high demand for her products, Park said that she has considered expanding her business by getting a manufacturer in New York City or even enlisting Cornell fashion students for help.
At Cornell, Park credited her classes and clubs for helping her develop more skills relevant to running a business, such as marketing, management and leadership. She highlighted her participation in Epsilon Nu Tau — Cornell’s entrepreneurship fraternity — as being particularly beneficial.
“The people in that community are amazing, and it’s so inspiring to work alongside other student entrepreneurs who have similar goals,” Park said.
In addition to ENT, Park is also a member of several fashion clubs at Cornell, including Cornell Fashion Collective and Cornell Fashion Industry Network, as well as the Cornell Marketing Immersion program, the undergraduate start-up community Ventures Accelerated and Cornell KASA, the Korean-American Students Association.
Each Cornell involvement has enabled Park to build connections with like-minded students and spread knowledge of her brand among the community. However, in some cases, her brand reached Cornellians before she even arrived on campus for the first time. Park highlighted an anecdote in which her social media outreach led to an unexpected connection.
“This past summer, [my freshman year roommate] sent me a screenshot of my corsets that she had taken on my Instagram in 2021,” Park said. “We’re best friends now, and she knew about my business two years ago, before we even met.”
Park has rebranded since 2021, shifting away from the influence of social media trends in favor of a more mature style.
“As I’m getting older and more confident in my own style, I am leaning towards elegant, timeless and more feminine designs, so I want that to reflect in my brand,” she said.
As for her plans beyond the fourth launch, Park stated that she would like to run Ellie Grace full-time at some point, but also expressed interest in working in the fashion industry after completing her undergraduate degree and learning from other brands before doing so.
Park also shared her advice for other young entrepreneurs eager to begin their own businesses.
“Just do it, even if you feel like it’s not the right time,” Park said. “Whatever the circumstances might be, if you’re not going to do it now, there’s very little chance you’ll do it later. Just do it, and learn as you go.”
Eric Lechpammer ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].