ASU student combines art, business for

Jewelry and accessory design company and one of its senior designers, fine art and business marketing senior Courtney Larsen, work with 2,000 artisans across the world to create fashion with a cause.

Larsen has been interested in art and fashion since she was a child.

“I was drawing and making things since I could pick them up,” she said.

Larsen continued art through middle and high school. After following a suggestion from her parents, and also because she had been part of her high school student government, Larsen decided to add business to her education at ASU.

“I knew I didn’t want to major in just art,” she said. “With business, you can integrate what you learn in everyday life.”

Larsen said the classes she had taken at the W. P. Carey School have helped her in her design career at Hearts.

“My entrepreneurial marketing class was super beneficial,” she said. “Also, accounting and economics classes have helped me when communicating with vendors.”

Larsen joined the Hearts team in January 2012, after responding to an email advertisement from the Herberger Institute.

As a senior designer, Larsen is responsible for overseeing the design process, helping create designs, communicating with artisans, sketches and material selection.

Larsen said her favorite thing about being a designer is seeing a concept come to life.

She said she gets her inspiration for designs from art, style sites, blogs and street fashion.

Larsen said working at Hearts has changed the way she thinks about fashion.

“I have made it a personal goal to not buy things that are not ethically made,” she said.

The Hearts company officially launched in November 2012 and was started by designer Stephanie Petro and venture capitalist Hart Cunningham, who met and discovered that they both shared the same vision for creating a company that supports social causes, as well as keeps cultural art alive.

Michelle Gerster, Stephanie’s sister, joined the company to help with logistics and project management.

“We didn’t have a business plan," she said. "Everything happened organically. Everyone who is a part of our team now was at a crossroads in their lives and wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

The company aims to promote fair trade fashion and accessories, while educating consumers about how fashion is made.

Hearts sells its products online only. Each item on the website is unique and made exclusively for, and is hand-checked by the designers for aesthetics and quality before being put up for sale.

Heather Shandler, senior designer and ASU alumna, said the company researches artisans that it works with by providing them with a questionnaire that asks what materials they use to make their items, where the materials come from and who is making the items.

“We have high material standards,” she said. "All of our products are made from renewable products."

Shandler joined the Hearts team in March 2012 after graduating from the Art Institute of Phoenix. Similar to Larsen, Shandler draws inspiration from art and street fashion.

“We take pictures of patterns we see and like,” she said. “We like to think outside the box.”

Those patterns could be used in future designs.

Shandler said the growing eco-movement is working in the company’s favor.

“We can have sustainable jewelry pieces that allow people to look good and do good at the same time.”

Shandler said she likes that Hearts helps people with each piece that is sold.

“I care about what we do,” she said. “And I hope I get to continue to do that.”


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Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misattributed a quote spoken by Heather Sandler to Michelle Gerster and gave the wrong name for Stephanie Petro. It has been updated to reflect the correct information.

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