Students balance transitioning to college, running business

Gracyn Freiling

In August, Darbi Hill loaded boxes full of T-shirts, room decor and a DSLR camera into the trunk of her car, ready to make the drive from Marshall, Texas to the Forty Acres. Meanwhile, across the state in McAllen, Karla Garduño’s suitcases remained empty, but her sewing machine was warm. 

Since the school year began, Hill, an undeclared freshman, and Garduño, a pre-public relations freshman, have struggled to transition to college life while simultaneously running their businesses.

Hill began her photography business, “Darbi Hill Photography,” in the spring of 2018 and has since photographed weddings, engagements, senior portraits, anniversaries and more. 

Hill first grew her clientele as friends and family reposted her work on social media. Since moving to Austin, Hill said she has used the same strategy and taken to Instagram to find new clients. 

“I did this thing on my Instagram story where people could tag couples that live in the Austin area, and then from there, I reached out to the people who were tagged,” Hill said.

Hill offered a deal to these couples: a free photoshoot in exchange for social media exposure. 

“It’s all about publicity right now for me and not really money,” Hill said. “But I want to respect myself and the work that I’m putting in.”

Her tactic was successful, and Hill got her first Austin clients: newly engaged couple Ashley Cook and Tyler Moon. 

“She just asked me if I would post (the pictures) on Instagram so other people in Austin would see them. I was going to do that anyway, so it worked out perfectly,” Cook said.

Unlike Hill, Garduño is 315 miles away from campus and hasn’t needed to find a new client base for her business. Instead, Garduño’s biggest concern is time management.


Garduño opened an online shop called “GarBoc by Karla” in early August, where she sells embroidered apparel, painted denim jackets and paintings. So far, the shop has sold around 60 items to individuals all over the U.S.

“(My art is) a collection of portraits, and through that I show the individuality of people and how we’re all unique yet the same,” Garduño said.

Garduño said balancing her business and course load has been more difficult than she expected. 

“I started (GarBoc by Karla) during quarantine so, of course, I had all the time in the world,” Garduño said. “But now with college … that has affected me a lot with the way I manage my time.”

Garduño said she has also experienced financial obstacles in growing her business. To start the shop, she said she saved up from a previous job to buy a sewing machine and other supplies. She has since opened a savings account and started to see profit from her sales.

“I’m slowly starting to save now, and I’m starting to see some earnings,” Garduño said.

“GarBoc by Karla” customer and friend Grace Vaughan has bought a painting, sweatshirt and T-shirts from the shop. She said she admires Garduño’s work ethic. 

“She puts her heart and soul into painting and everything she does, and she gives it 110%. I feel like that’s so obvious through all of the things I’ve bought,” Vaughan said.