Wilkes Colonel Michelle Rae Lehman builds a business of her own


Amanda Bialek, LA&E Editor

Senior Michelle Lehman began her college career with the aspiration to become a nurse. After her first semester of soul-searching, she discovered her true passion. The field of marketing captured her heart giving her the creative outlet she was looking for.

“Michelle is an extraordinary young woman. As a student, she has maintained high academic achievement as an undergraduate and it is my expectation she will excel in her planned graduate studies,” Gerald Ephault, executive in residence at the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship said. “As a Kirby Scholar, Michelle has set a high standard of accomplishment in duties in providing support to the University’s students, staff, faculty and this Center.”

Lehman is the Kirby Scholar of Business Development at the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship where she assists with internal and external client business organization, strategy and marketing.

“I have complete confidence in her whenever we are meeting with clients or engaging in a networking activity. She is an outstanding representative of Wilkes University and the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship,” Ephault said.

Her experiences mentoring various clients with their business ventures is what prompted Lehman to take the next steps in her undergraduate career.

“I noticed the enthusiasm clients had as they were turning their business dreams into a reality. It inspired me to take a leap of faith and pursue my passion for entrepreneurship,” Lehman said.

Lehman’s love for fashion and desire to help other women led to the development of her clothing business RAE Sleeves. She wanted this brand to be authentic and an extension of herself which is why she used her middle name Rae. The company logo is a triangle which symbolizes spirit, ancient wisdom and harmony.

Her sleeve design was meant to solve a problem. She found herself and the women in her inner circle complaining about arm imperfections. Through her research, Lehman found that 91 percent of women are insecure about some part of their body.

Whether at a casual dinner or in a professional setting, she realized there was always a level of insecurity present for women wearing sleeveless apparel. Although jackets were the obvious option for arm coverage, the extra layer of fabric hid the clothing underneath. With this in mind, Lehman decided to create a fashionable and functional option that would allow women to feel comfortable wearing their favorite sleeveless top or dress.

“It was my goal to create a clothing line that would empower women by making them feel covered and confident,” Lehman said.

She started the design process by creating digital renderings of the sleeves. Lehman chose hosiery for the sleeves and spandex for the bodice. After presenting her idea and fabric choices to a seamstress, her design was brought to life. A microgrant from the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship allowed her to invest in her first prototype design.

“The supportive staff at the Allan P. Kirby Center along with the experiential learning opportunities I was given as an undergraduate and Kirby Scholar has provided me with the skills and confidence to launch my business,” Lehman said.

The first signature line of RAE Sleeves available will be the onyx black sleeves. She plans to also add a neutral line of nude, blush pink and grey; a glam line of gold and silver and an essentials line with dark blue, burgundy and army green.

In order for Lehman to mass produce her first 500 sleeves, she needs to raise approximately $6,000. To help raise funds for manufacturing and overhead fees she recently launched her Impact Campaign in January. She created a T-shirt design which is a white crew neck shirt that has a black pocket with the word “impact.” Lehman wanted to offer a product that is true to her brand. She hopes that her supporters feel empowered to make an impact big or small in 2018 when they wear their T-shirt.

“My hope is for women to wear my brand and feel empowered to reach their full potential,” Lehman said.

For those interested in supporting the Impact campaign, visit www.raesleeves.com to order a t-shirt or email Michelle Lehman at raesleevesapparel.com. To follow along Lehman’s business journey, follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at RAE Sleeves.