UI students start business to study abroad

UI students began their own business selling homemade headbands to be able to afford studying abroad.


Katie Goodale

Kennedy Voss (left) and Taylor Williams (right) pose for a portrait on the Ped Mall on June 27, 2019. Voss and Williams started a business called Wanderlust Wraps to pay for their study abroad trip. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

Andy Mitchell, News Reporter

Two University of Iowa students went beyond crowdfunding to take a semester abroad by starting their own business. Now, after successful fundraising, the business shows to have a life of its own.

University of Iowa students Taylor Williams and Kennedy Voss started Wanderlust Wraps in May 2018, selling headbands to raise money for the Semester at Sea Study Abroad Program. After returning from the program, Williams and Voss joined the Founders Club for UI student entrepreneurs, and they can see their business expanding.

“That was the only way we were going to get there,” Voss said. “We wanted to do Semester at Sea and with the hefty price tag that comes with it, we didn’t know how we were going to do it unless we created a business or some sort of financial strategy to get us there.”

Voss and Williams met as Division-1 athletes on the Hawkeye rowing team and formed a friendship after having a mutual dislike at the onset. After quitting the team, they worked on building their business.

Semester at Sea is not a UI study-abroad program, and the student fees can be more than $25,000. Elizabeth Wildenberg de Hernandez, senior associate director of the UI Study Abroad programs, said the cost of Semester at Sea is on the higher end of most programs.

“It’s nice to see students who are being entrepreneurial,” Hernandez said. “I think that’s encouraging, and I’m not sure that I’ve seen that before.”

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During their 106 days at sea, Voss and Williams saw 11 countries and 15 cities, and shared a ship with 500 other students from all corners of the world. When they were overseas, Wanderlust Wraps was managed by family.

Voss, an enterprise-leadership major, and Williams, a communications major, said the idea for their product came from the problem of their headbands slipping and falling off during workouts and rowing. Their wraps are handmade with a fabric that does more to grip the hair and stay in place.

Before going to sea, they staked out spots in front of Iowa Book and at the Farmers’‘ Market over the summer and fall semesters of 2018, taking every opportunity to sell their wraps. Voss used her classes at the Tippie College of Business to learn about growing and managing the new business.

Katie Goodale
A wanderlust wrap is seen on June 27, 2019. Kennedy Voss and Taylor Williams started the business selling acessories to pay for their study abroad trip. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

Voss said the UI and Iowa City communities have been a great environment for growing their business, with such university resources as lawyers, accountants, and photographers and mentorship from other women business owners in the city.

“If you ever need anything, you just sit down, and there’s always someone there to help you no matter what,” Williams said.

As for the future of the business, Voss and Williams will look at printing their own fabrics and expanding the kind of products they sell.

Hernandez said the Study Abroad office has seen a steady increase in students studying abroad, while the office has worked to make it more accessible by finding programs for students outside the humanities and partnering with different departments to get students interested.

After their own success, Voss and Williams are looking to pay it forward by starting a scholarship fund for fellow Hawkeyes using the profits from Wanderlust wraps.

“We want everyone to have that opportunity, because I think it was life-changing, and I don’t think money should be a reason not to go,” Voss said.