Students invest in community with new business 

  Tuesday, May 22, 2018 3:00 PM
  News, People and Society

Pittsburg, KS

Sonder & Co.

Brittan Brenner is a through-and-through Wichitonian, having grown up there. 

"But Pittsburg is my home," she said. "Just the way this community has invested in me, I can't think of any place I'd rather go and be a young professional." 

So, the Pittsburg State senior plans to stay put here and open a business with her best friend, Kailey Pearson — a current student who also is a Wichita native — in the heart of downtown Pittsburg.  

There, an innovative restoration project is taking place: Block22. In fact, Pearson was the first resident in line to sign a contract to live in Block22. 

"We want to be a part of the economic growth of Pittsburg," Brenner said. "That's so big right now." 

For investment capital, they're using $5,000 they won in the recent Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge as the first team to ever represent Pittsburg State. To create and run it, they're using skills they used in their degree programs — Pearson in graphic design and Brenner in public relations. 

Sonder & Company 

Planned to open when Block22 apartments open in August, Sonder & Co. will be a boutique-style store-front showcasing and selling the works of area artisans. It is tentatively planned for Fourth Street on the ground level of the Commerce Building. 

And, the two say, it will reflect what Pittsburg's all about.  

"We talk a lot about place attachment, and about identifying problems in our community and how to fix them," Brenner said. "We wanted our brand to really embody what Pittsburg is. We want our fellow students at Pitt State to have a place attachment so when they graduate, they won't take the lessons and skills they learned in our city limits to other places. They'll use them here. " 

Pearson agreed. 

"It's proven that if people have pride in where they're at, and others have pride in them and what they're doing, they'll want to stick around," she said. 

An attachment 

Brenner said she is a testament to that. She has formed a place attachment by throwing herself into not only campus activities, but the greater community. This year, she began working for the City of Pittsburg at City Hall writing government policy in hopes of improving life for residents. 

This fall, she'll graduate from Pittsburg State with a degree in communications and an emphasis in public relations and next spring will start graduate school. 

She and Pearson chose the name Sonder for a reason: coined in 2012 by the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, it means the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. 

"We want to integrate students and community members as fellow artisans, help them establish bonds, gather together in events — we could have a Sonders Social — and unite for a common cause: to sell things we make," said Pearson, who will be a sophomore in graphic design. 

She's also the first-generation college student in her family. 

"When I toured the Kansas Technology Center, I knew I couldn't go anywhere else," she said. 

Brenner, who graduated two weeks ago with a bachelor's in communication with an emphasis in public relations, never considered anywhere else, either. 

"My parents went here, and our whole basement is Pitt State," she said. "Growing up, I was a Gorilla for Halloween, so they're thrilled." 

The two connected over a Wichita flag one of them had hung in a residence hall room. 

"We started coming up with our business idea when we heard about Block22," Pearson said. 

Award winning 

They took the idea to the next level by entering the Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge, encouraged by their mentor, Sydney Anselmi, director of Community Engagement in PSU's University Strategic Initiatives. 

After presenting to judges an executive summary, a four-minute polished pitch, and a branding board, the two came away with fourth place and the money they needed to launch the business. 

The two say they know many students who make "amazing goods," but don't have the time or resources to market it themselves nor coordinate shipping. 

"They bring it to the store, we do a profit share, and they get 60 percent and we get 40 percent," Brenner said. 

Community artists may sell their work at the store on a six-month basis by paying a $40 monthly fee, and their profit split is 70/30. 

They specifically are seeking items like knitted scarves, jewelry, prints, sculptures, and similar works. 

"There are a lot of places like this in Wichita, specifically the Workroom, and we love it," Pearson said. "They have really cool handmade stuff — they were our model." 

They plan to develop an e-commerce site, as well, and will carry Sonder & Co. Flagship t-shirts, stationary, prints, cups, and other merchandise. 

"Beyond the community engagement, we both see it as a propelling into a career," Brenner said. "It's a way to continue to be part of the student community while establishing myself as a young professional. When we graduate, we'll have options: we'll have artisans who have a large stake in it by then and we could transfer ownership if we wanted to, and we've also set it up so it can be easily replicated in other communities, like a franchise." 

Above all, they said, they will remain true to their goal. 

"Our goal is not to be millionaires but rather to create a sense of community pride by supporting local artisans both tangibly and financially," their mission statement reads. "Through a prominent community presence with Broadway frontage and a strong social media presence that highlights our e-commerce store and blog, we hope to create a name and space that celebrates the lives of others through their art." 


Learn more about Block22 at