CHAPEL HILL –  Symbology, a fair-trade clothing company started by UNC alum Marissa Heyle, is one of the leading ventures being developed in the 1789 business incubator in Chapel Hill.  The goal of 1789 is to help Carolina students and recent graduates make their businesses successful and impactful  on the local economy.

Symbology features clothing and accessories produced by artisans from in developing countries with fashion-forward designs. Heyl founded the company several years ago, drawing inspiration from her research into how fair trade empowers craftswomen in India. Heyl, who is currently in India, makes the trip once a year to search for new artisans and check in with current partners.

UNC senior and business major Minhaj Baqai is the Senior Operations Manager for Symbology.

“It’s a unique company. There aren’t the many fair trade clothing companies out there. When someone thinks of fair trade, they think of food or coffee, not usually clothing,” Baqai said.


Jeremiah Kimball, a UNC graduate who helps with marketing and sales, explains that Symbology supports the efforts of female artisans to craft not only beautiful clothes, but to help make better lives for themselves by gaining financial independence and reinvesting in their local communities.

“It’s fair trade; it is sustainable. We care about not just how it’s made but who it is made by. We like to make sure that we are as responsible and give back as much as we can to the communities who make those clothes,” Kimball said.

Kimball said 1789 has not only given Symbology a space to work, but a chance to use all of the resources the incubator offers. He explained that the Joe Start-Up Program has been helpful because it helps define what a venture needs to be successful. Participating in the program is a requirement to be able to use the 1789 space for free.

“Joe Start-Up basically puts everybody on the same footing for what they need to have done to have a solid foundation, a solid base for their company so that they can have the highest chance to be successful with their business. We have to make sure that we have a business plan and make sure that you know your target customer,” Kimball said.

1789 hosts a variety of ventures, ranging from those in the development stages to those like Symbology, which is up and running.

“The resources that they provide us are great as far as Joe Start-Up and any and all connections between other businesses inside and outside of the space. We just have a very large network of resources that we can utilize here in order to push forward and make moves,” Kimball said.

Savita Sivakumar is a junior at UNC and helps with inventory management. She’s not only getting hands-on business experience but also enjoys the perks of working in an office with a ping-pong table and arcade games.

“It’s really cool with the random games. and we get to take lunch breaks and play ping-pong which is really cool. It feels like a nice transition from school to work,” Sivakumar said.

“This place and Launch are great places for people to have a space to start something. I feel like that’s a big problem that comes with a start-up. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a space to go to,” Sivakumar said.

Baqui said the openness of 1789 helps ideas to flow easily between the venturists.

“You are learning not only from your own employees, your own interns, but also other ventures who maybe in similar situations,” Baqai said.

You can find Symbology’s products online or in stores like One World Market in Durham.