Maddy Byrd is designing her future

This is the latest in a series about student entrepreneurs on the Harding University campus. 

When Louisville native Maddy Byrd first appeared in the Waldron Center, she was a ball of fire talking a hundred miles an hour about her side hustle doing fashion accessory popup events. She was determined and full of energya tornado of ideas spinning through our creative space.

Just three short semesters later, she has maintained her vision, but she’s disciplined her process.  She speaks more slowly; she’s more deliberate when explaining her path and her vision. The entrepreneurial intuition she’s nursed since middle school is still there, but entrepreneurship coursework has given her a broader perspective, and she’s learned some lessons through trial and error as a designer and exposure to some mentoring.

She’s reflective about what she still needs to learn, and more methodical about things like customer discovery and keeping her focus on mapping for the season to come, like any good designer. Maddy Byrd is growing into her dreams.


Since she was 12, Byrd has been designing and selling accessories and marketing her goods through retailers with brick and mortar locations. She created jewelry repurposed from vintage items. She sold knitted accessories. She had a profitable relationship with retailer Ralph London, whom she met four years ago at his Betty Jeffries mobile boutique on the Louisville waterfront. London now has a fixed Betty Jeffries location in Madisonville, Indiana.

“Ralph taught me to slow down, hear what customers are saying, and to forecast design into the season to come. Seeing how he uses his academic expertise daily encouraged me to become an entrepreneurial management major. I’m thankful to him for encouraging me to become a well-rounded business person, rather than just someone who is good at one or two things. He could have easily turned me away. In his store, he covered the overhead and took the risk that I would show up and provide a saleable product for him. As a self-taught designer that was a huge vote of confidence.”

Byrd now looks everywhere for inspiration. Last spring she studied in Australia and visited Thailand, Cambodia, India and Japan. Exposure to artists’ communities on that trip helped her to acquire new skills. Some designers at the Saturday markets in New Zealand allowed her to get hands-on with soldering and hammerwork and shellacking of native flowers for jewelry pendants. “In Japan, artists repurpose vintage kimonos; turning the pieces into beautiful jewelry and hair ornaments.”

Does she feel her personality innately equips her for business?  “One way I’m well suited for business is that I’m not scared to ask. My Dad taught me that the worst thing anyone can tell you is no–and that sense of courage has served me well. On the other hand, I have occasionally struggled to focus on the most important things, which is a challenge for all entrepreneurs. I’m getting better at it.”

She’s thankful for opportunities that have allowed her to learn some lessons early. “My parents have stood by my side no matter what. This business has always been a hobby and something I love. They encouraged me when I needed it as well as occasionally provided funds so I could pursue my hobby and further my education at the same time. My grandparents supported me as well–always asking for pieces, pushing me to try new things and believing in me. I’m very lucky.”

img_0289Taking her business to the next level, however, requires formalizing business procedures and transitioning from handshake agreements to contracts with named product lines and guarantees of production quantities.

For a young designer, taking a profitable hobby into formal retail relationships can be intimidating. Learning to negotiate the retailer’s terms and requirements for tagging, shipping, packaging and invoicing is a new level of structure that transcends the pleasures of design. But successful designers must sell their designs, and Byrd is now concentrating more of her efforts on that next level of professionalism.

Byrd is currently in discussions to schedule a summer trunk show for the Draper James retail location in Lexington. Draper James is the women’s clothing and lifestyle retailer launched in 2015 by actress Reese Witherspoon. The flagship store is in Nashville, and there are locations in Lexington, Atlanta, and Dallas. Draper James has been successful in cultivating national co-branding relationships with such partners as Jack Rogers, Eloquii, Crate and Barrel, and Nordstrom.

Byrd considers this trunk show a unique opportunity to observe and to learn from a company established by a female entrepreneur building a brand around a modern, strong-yet-gracious Southern women’s aesthetic—something to which the women in Maddy Byrd’s family definitely relate. We wish her luck on her journey.

If you are a student running a business, the Waldron Center wants to hear your story too. Drop us a line at