(Editor: Throughout the month of February, across our Blog and Social Media platforms, we will celebrate Geauga small businesses while highlighting GCPL resources for small businesses. We reached out to Geauga County small business owners and asked them for the story behind their businesses as well as any advice they have to offer other small business owners and those looking to start their own small businesses. This post was written by Bryan Straniero of My Top 3 – Custom Fair Trade Tees.)

GCPL: When was My Top 3 founded & what inspired you to start your business?

Bryan Straniero: I founded My Top 3 in 2017. It all started when I was drinking my Equal Exchange (fair trade) coffee one wintery morning and was simply struck by an artist in the newspaper.  She had these shirts with her handwriting of random phrases on them.  It resonated with my love for handwriting and lists and eventually led me to this concept of all-time top 3 lists on shirts. And I’ve always had an obsession with all-time lists. A personalized My Top 3 tee promotes conversations that are exciting, and the possibility of finding common ground with someone is even brighter. I had always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and this seemingly everyday moment finally pushed me past fear and into making the idea a tangible reality.  I set up my shop on etsy.com soon after.

I was inspired to put an idea out there and see if it had wings to fly. I also saw a niche that I desired to fill – local accessibility to practical fair trade products. Thus, in addition to all-time top 3 lists, My Top 3 prints and/or designs tees for businesses, bands, teams, events, etc. I believe in the fair trade brand I use for base shirts, called HAE (Humans, Animals, Environment) Now. I want anyone who needs shirts made to have an option of getting their art onto a HAE Now shirt rather than the many popular exploitative brands that, unfortunately, exist in the market.

GCPL: What challenges do you face in your day-to-day operations, and how do you overcome them?

Bryan: One major challenge I face is, “What is growth?”  This is a challenging question and can only be engaged by a practical perspective.  If the Etsy shop grows, I can consider furthering my options.

GCPL: What is your favorite part of owning a business?

Bryan: My favorite parts about running My Top 3 is the creative process, and participating in the fair trade movement – because the authentic fair trade industry holistically cares for each person involved, from start to finish, in the making of a product.  It is a movement that I have deeply believed in since I learned about it 15 years ago, a truly beautiful way to make the world a better place.  Workers are empowered, lives are improved, and communities are strengthened!  I use certified fair trade shirts for every My Top 3 project.

GCPL: What kinds of education did starting your business entail?

Bryan: I earned a B.A. from Malone University, but My Top 3 arose from imagination, and experience working in the small business world.

GCPL: Have you ever used the library to help with your business?

Bryan: I’ve used the library for their fast and reliable internet, approachable and knowledgeable staff, and positive atmosphere.

GCPL: What resources did/do you find most useful in helping you to start, grow, and maintain your business (Books, software, training materials, databases, etc.)?

Bryan: Staying current on news and culture (I love Cleveland’s Plain Dealer), reading sites such as Fashionably Cleveland, and networking through social media and brilliant collectives of people like the Ohio Fair Trade Network.

GCPL: What advice do you have for people who want to start a business?

Bryan: Fear not! Put your idea out there and stick with it.

You can find My Top 3 on Etsy, Facebook, and Instagram.

Bryan is currently reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, watching California Typewriter, and listening to American Dream by LCD Sound System.