For as long as they can remember, Tiffany Melenzio has been knitting and sewing. But it wasn’t until quarantine that the UNC junior turned their hobby into a local, Black-owned business: Cup of T.
“I’ve been sewing and knitting since I was a kid," Melenzio, a dramatic art and psychology double major, said. "And during quarantine I was absolutely losing my mind, and I saw that people were recreating Harry Styles’ Today Show sweater."
This trend led Melenzio to recreate the sweater that inspired the creation of Cup of T, their crochet business that makes handmade clothing items and accessories.
“I was like, ‘OK, I absolutely need that (sweater) because I’m obsessed with Harry Styles,'” Melenzio said. “I actually knit the entire thing and then my hands cramped for two weeks, and I was trying to find a more sustainable way to make the things I wanted.”
Melenzio wanted to explore the idea of creating an online business that offered quality, handmade sustainable items, such as tops and totes.
At first, Melenzio said they faced challenges with timeliness and keeping up with the quality and quantity of orders as they were being placed. But, as they note in the bio of Cup of T’s Instagram account, “let’s be real, slow and steady won’t win the race… but it will result in a 100% handmade item.”
However, before the pressure to fill orders began to rise, Melenzio first needed to decide where to start their business as a young student.
“I asked my mom because she started her own business when I was in high school, and I asked her about the steps that she went through,” Melenzio said. “Although she sold clothes, it’s still the same path as creating an online store.”
As a young woman starting a business, the process was not free of struggle or unforeseen challenges, Melenzio said, but they made the decision to continue.
“I decided that if I love it enough then other people will love it too," they said. "One of my love languages is gift giving so I decided what better way to do that than have a business.”
Melenzio describes the involvement of their friends and family in the development of Cup of T as a business.
“I actually talked to my friends throughout this entire process and asked them, ‘What should I name these things?’ or ‘Do you think this is a smart idea?’ and they would say yes or shoot me down, but that’s basically the process of it,” they said.
One of Melenzio's friends to receive the first Cup of T products was Aditi Jain, a junior studying biology.
“(Melenzio) sent three of the totes to me and (they) sent me the display pictures of them and we were texting, and I was just like ‘Oh my gosh, these literally look amazing,’” Jain said.
Melenzio asked Jain to help name some of the totes available to purchase on their Instagram, including "clementine" and "mélancolie."
In addition to the participation of their friends on campus, Melenzio’s cousin, Danielle Simms, notes a familial connection in the naming of Cup of T.
“When I think about Cup of T, I just think about how our grandma always used to call us different names of different components of her tea,” Simms said. “I would be the sugar and Tiffany would be the cup and she would call (Tiffany's sister) her Milo.”
For Melenzio, Cup of T’s name is special in a more personal way as well.
“I really wanted to do something that was reflective of me, and that’s why I would always say ‘cup of tea,'" Melenzio said. "It’s like what a coincidence that my name is Tiffany, it’s a Cup of T, a cup of me."
As their business grows, Melenzio hopes that it will continue to stay true to themselves and uplift others.
“People are getting my most authentic self through my crochet," they said. "And I really prioritize uplifting voices and ideas, especially Black voices and Black creatives, and I really want it to be reflective of something colorful, bright and deserving of space.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.