There are many industries catered to and dominated by masculinity, and it’s taken extraordinary women with incredible tenacity and passion to break through them. Meet Kyle Cavan. Founded by Elizabeth Shirley, Penn State Alum, and Kyle Garcia, Kyle Cavan is a college jewelry line that’s redefining the college and licensing market. The brand namesake is inspired by Kyle Garcia and Cavan, a county in Ireland where Garcia’s grandfather is from, as a nod to the lineage and tradition of universities. VALLEY had the pleasure of sitting down with Elizabeth Shirley to talk to her about Kyle Cavan and female entrepreneurship.
Elizabeth and Kyle are not just co-founders, but more importantly, childhood best friends. In college, the besties parted ways as Elizabeth came to Penn State and Kyle to Duke. Soon after, the two friends came back together in New York City with newly developed skills in Marketing, Advertising and Real Estate. The idea for Kyle Cavan came about when Kyle realized that as she wore her statement pieces and layers of jewelry she was lacking a statement college piece that fit her style.
The pair began to innovate ideas and designs for college jewelry pieces that were stylish, modern and sophisticated instead of the traditional masculine and bulky class rings, pins and cufflinks. However, as they moved farther into the college licensing industry, they noticed distinct barriers put in place. In order to get their start-up off the ground, they needed to gain approval from dozens of colleges and universities across the nation to put out their designs into the market.
“Only about 20% of companies get an approval for the license to use their name/brand/logo as many universities have very strict corporate responsibility regulations,” says Elizabeth.
In the beginning of Kyle Cavan’s journey, the brand found success in their bespoke architecture styles for a few colleges which truly began to launch the company into the position they’re in now. Kyle approached Elizabeth to help her build the company up as Elizabeth had strong experience in a variety of retail and style companies from Vera Wang to Living Proof. As Kyle designed new and innovative pieces, Elizabeth tackled many of the business side of things.
“I wanted to start fresh and figure out what other people wanted to wear and build a company from the ground up.”Elizabeth Shirley
Kyle Cavan started their first collection inspired by vintage coins with university seals and logos emblemed on the front. The brand leaned on feminine, subtle and vintage style jewelry to be as fashionable and timeless as possible. These styles directly combatted the traditional masculine and rugged look of the existing college jewelry market. Elizabeth was able to give VALLEY unique insight into the licensing and start-up world.
“Some of the best advice I could give when looking at a startup is to focus on doing one thing well first and develop a reputation before trying to take on too much. At Kyle Cavan, we wanted to focus on a couple of collections first, target a few school licenses and then continue to expand. In the beginning, we only had 13 schools and now we have 70 and are working on more,” says Elizabeth.
One of Kyle Cavan’s most recent collections is titled MMXX which is the year 2020 in Roman numerals. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the founders Elizabeth and Kyle talked to many seniors across high schools and universities and noticed that many graduates felt as if their special graduation moment was ripped away.
“It felt right to do something to honor them. Graduation is such a special and important milestone and MMXX honors that,” says Elizabeth.
Twenty percent of the collection’s proceeds will go to No Kid Hungry in honor of the class of 2020. Kyle Cavan has been able to donate the equality of more than 40,000 meals already and will continue to do so through the end of the year.
Kyle Cavan currently collaborates with Penn State on an exclusive THON collection where 22% of sales will be donated to the organization all year long. Some other beautiful pieces in the Kyle Cavan collection with Penn State include Old Main in its architecture series as well as the Penn State vintage logo crested on an elegant coin piece.
Surprisingly, Penn State denied Kyle Cavan’s request at first, but Elizabeth soon explained how difficult it is for companies to get started in the licensing industry as a university like Penn State has strict fair trade and responsible manufacturing requirements. When Kyle Cavan began to look for how to best practice its social responsibility they started in the jewelry district of New York, but through connections and recommendations found a manufacturer in Rhode Island who did work for the likes of giants like Tiffany and David Yurman.
“It was important to us to find a manufacturer with high responsibility standards and with high quality. High profile brand names give the manufacturer a higher idea and standard of responsibility,” says Elizabeth.
However, Kyle Cavan has made an effort to integrate social responsibility into more areas than just one.
“It’s very important from our brand side to be inclusive. We knew that we did not want to have only one type of model or one type of voice on our website, socials etc. We want to inspire people with different voices and backgrounds,” says Elizabeth.
VALLEY got the chance to ask Elizabeth about what it means to be an entrepreneur and more importantly, what it means to be a female leader in a space often navigated by men and where she sees Kyle Cavan taking off.
“I hope to be a company that is known in the college licensing industry and that we can see some real transparency. We want to continue to expand and become a marketplace type brand and bring on collaborations with those who had never thought of the college licensing industry as a space to bring high quality and beautiful designs,” says Elizabeth.
Expanding the company and range isn’t the only thing that Elizabeth hopes to take Kyle Cavan in the future. She hopes to see the company create a Kyle Cavan community and eventually create a startup for women to fund their own entrepreneurs to work with major licensing companies to help them enter into the predominantly male world.
“I’m very big on female empowerment and mentorship. I hope our Kyle Cavan pieces can represent a part of your journey that helped shape you and always remind you of that milestone in your life that has brought you to where you are now.”Elizabeth Shirley
Thanks to Kayla Westergaard and Elizabeth Shirley for this collaboration! VALLEY can’t wait to see where Kyle Cavan goes.