We had the good fortune of connecting with Aleah Colón-Alfonso and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Aleah, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Both ideas that sparked my business ventures were created out of necessity. I founded my brand new startup, Stay Safely Away, after noticing the lack of social distancing and facial coverings amidst the current pandemic in Sarasota. I have Small Fiber Neuropathy and Lyme Disease, which leaves me highly susceptible to complications if I contract Covid-19. While I fall under the category of “immunocompromised,” I don’t display any outward signs that would make it apparent to others. Within the past two years, I underwent weekly intravenous immunoglobulin treatments that lasted up to 12 hours, ended up with aseptic meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain) from those treatments, endured a misplaced PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter)…but despite having poor health on paper- I don’t look sick at all. The combination of being high risk yet appearing healthy amidst Covid-19 quickly sparked the concept of creating wearable signage that lets people display their immunocompromised status while reminding people to “Stay Safely Away.” The impetus of officially starting the company came one morning when my family and I drove to a nearby beach at 6 am, right as it opened. There were only two or three people on the beach- all hundreds of feet away from each other. We used non-toxic spray chalk to create a six-foot chalk circle around our little setup before heading into the water. Within minutes an older gentleman walked onto the beach- and went directly out of his way to walk through our circle. I kept saying, “I wish he knew this wasn’t about politics or making a point- I just wish there was a sign that said, “I’m immunocompromised- please, please stay away!” The day after my college finals ended, I delved into research. I spent every moment I could working on logos, designs, and creating the website. The more work I did and the more individuals like myself who supported my idea throughout the process, the clearer it became to me that I had stumbled onto something that had the potential of helping people.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
My company is called Stay Safely Away, and I founded it to offer premiere merchandise to those who require or want extra space and respect amidst the current pandemic. As well as creating products that help others recognize those who require extra care for their health, we are a company structured around inclusivity; we ship worldwide and offer sizes ranging from infant through 5XL. I’m most excited about the prospect of making people feel a little more secure or protected during these unknown times. I also designed a wide array of products besides apparel to accommodate as many people as possible. Our product offerings include beach towels, face masks, backpacks, school supplies, swimwear, shoes, stickers, and more. I focused on creating designs and options that would make the products as inclusive as possible. I got to where I am today through a series of events that can be best categorized as leaps of faith in my ideas driven by lots and lots of verve & caffeine. Starting a company in less than three months without any prior business training was not an easy task. However, part of my motivation behind working on it was the mental labor and time that went into it. I wanted to create something meaningful while I was quarantined. I’m not one to just sit on the couch, so having a goal and project to work on while at home and physically restricted due to my medical relapse was a must. As soon as my classes ended, Stay Safely Away became that outlet for me. At some points during my endeavor, it seemed like a never-ending stream of struggles and challenges. There were obstacles such as Covid-19 shipping delays and restrictions, but the bulk of the challenge was teaching myself everything from the bottom up. I wanted to create all of the designs myself, so I researched online graphic art and design classes and seminars until I was able to create my logo. After making the logo, I worked on product design, and as of now, we have over 130 products offered. When it came time for pricing, shipping calculations, and state tax, I took free accounting classes online and downloaded Quickbooks to keep track of everything. Through the process of launching Stay Safely Away, I have learned countless new programs, technological skills, legal jargon, marketing strategies, and more; But overall, the thing that I have relied on most has been persistence. Every single issue I encountered required perseverance. Whether it was trying to alter code on the website or calling manufacturers to discuss Covid-19 delays, the only way to fix problems was to follow through. Along with persistence, I found it was imperative to be inquisitive; So another sizable takeaway was always asking questions and not being afraid to ask for assistance when I needed it. I want the world to know that my company, its products, our message- they all center around the same goal- providing products that help real people display real concern for their health. We have nothing to do with politics or propaganda; we simply want everyone to stay safe and healthy amidst Covid-19. My ultimate goal would be for the brand or its logo to be recognizable as a symbol for social distancing. I hope to incorporate segments of the population that could benefit from uniform items (t-shirts, hats. etc.) that remind people to socially distance themselves. Teachers, cashiers, bus drivers, waitresses, nurses… I want to be able to help all the front line workers who are exposed every day to the virus and need a polite way to remind people to “Stay Safely Away.”
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My itinerary for taking someone around Sarasota would start at Siesta Key Beach. As I mentioned, I’m not one to sit still, so next, I would take them to do something a little more sporty- paddleboarding off Lido Key or renting kayaks and spending the afternoon on the water spotting local wildlife. While I’m slightly biased, I also think that the New College’s bayfront area is a must. It’s the perfect spot to play games or have a picnic at sunset, and there’s also tons of space to stay safely away from others while enjoying the view together.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have many people who have supported me along the way- but first and foremost are my parents. While I have faced my fair share of adversity and incompetent doctors, they have not only supported me, but they are the ones who taught me how to fight for myself and make my voice heard. My mom’s ongoing advice to me is, “keep moving forward.” Swollen brain in an honors college? Just keep moving forward. A doctor tells you to stop searching for a diagnosis? Keep moving forward. My dad is my greatest cheerleader and personal comedian. He has attended every soccer game, performance, & taekwondo testing I have ever had. He is the person who makes me smile no matter the circumstance- from minutes before an unnerving medical procedure to months confined in a wheelchair, he keeps me happy and laughing. My brother provides me with my sense of competitiveness and drive. Although ten years older, he has never let me win a single game. I still have scrabble score sheets from when I was six and he was a teenager- he absolutely decimated me. It’s through him that I have learned how to work for and earn my success. While he is there to pick me up if I fall, he has never allowed my physical limitations to be an excuse or reason for me not to give my best to everything I do. For my next ‘brotherly lesson’ it is important to understand that my brother is 6’ 3”, a veteran, and physical trainer. Through him, I have learned not to be intimidated by anyone and never let anything stand in my way. My family also relocated their whole lives from New Jersey to Florida for me to attend my top college choice, the New College of Florida, which I would like to share as my second shout out. New College has provided me with a strong creative outlet and extensive resources. I have been lucky enough to work with professors such as Dr. Tiffany Doan and Dr. Richard Coe who believe in my ideas and provide encouragement and assistance at every turn. Through New College, I also was able to connect with an extremely successful entrepreneurial alum, Lawrence Levine. Having an established serial entrepreneur believe in my ideas and pick up the phone to talk to me from the other side of the world for more than just a perfunctory conversation was utterly inspiring. Lastly, I would like to dedicate my shoutout to the two people who are the reason for every single one of my opportunities, my grandparents. My grandmother & grandfather immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic and worked their way to the American Dream. Together my grandparents started and ran a number of their own small businesses to provide for our family. The stories of each grocery store, hardware shop, laundromat, and factory perpetually inspire me to keep moving forward. To sum it up, “Todo lo que tengo, lo tengo por ti.” Everything I have, I have because of you.