Never forget where you come from is the ongoing theme running through The Midwest Girl, a Dubuque, Iowa T-shirt brand founded by University of Wisconsin-Platteville alumna Marissa (Droessler) Hoffmann and her sister Marah Odgers. Hoffmann graduated in 2012 with a degree in business administration and always knew she wanted to run her own business after growing up in a family of entrepreneurs.
“Our dad has owned his own business for 30 years,” said Hoffmann. “We come from a bloodline of small business owners. We were raised with a mindset of knowing what it takes to be your own boss, how beautiful it can be, the benefits of being your own boss and knowing how to get through the hard months, but also knowing there is usually a light at the end of the tunnel.”
In June of 2015, Hoffmann launched her company in a mobile boutique and now six years later she has a store front on Jackson Street in Dubuque, with nearly 30 retailers in eight states carrying The Midwest Girl apparel. There have been challenges and rewards along the way, but according to Hoffmann there’s one moment she’ll never forget.
“It was about four years ago at Target, and I saw somebody I didn’t know wearing one of our hats. It was an aha moment,” she said. “It took a long time to get to that; nothing happens overnight – it was a moment of thinking maybe we do have something really special here.”
As The Midwest Girl brand grows with new T-shirt collections and products, Hoffmann hopes when customers near and far wear the items they are taken back to their hometown roots.
“It’s always been about selling products based on a story. Telling our story of what it was like for us to grow up in the Midwest,” she said. “Our hope was it would resonate with other customers and that maybe our memories and experiences were similar.”
As COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted, Hoffmann said it’s exciting to see customers back in the store. She’s expecting to have a fun and busy next six months between summer and the holiday season.
“We learned over the past year small businesses are important in every community,” said Hoffmann. “People want to explore downtowns. When they go on vacation they’re finding the downtowns. They are going to the cool shops, restaurants and breweries. For us, it’s such a moment we need to capture to expand our reach and to get our T-shirts in more small businesses in the Midwest. It’s exciting.”
Hoffmann credits her UW-Platteville business professors with giving her the foundation to develop a business. She appreciated the small class sizes where she could form relationships with her instructors and peers.
“UW-Platteville was the perfect fit for me. It was the perfect size. It’s a place where you could get involved,” she said. “There are so many positive things with going to a small university. You are not just a number at a smaller university, which is what I loved. It’s what I needed to succeed as a student.”
And for those wanting to become entrepreneurs, Hoffmann shares this advice.
“You have to do it before someone else does and start before things are perfect. You have to start with what you got,” she said. “No matter who walks through our door, we go out of our way for every single customer. We make them feel like they are part of the family.”