Growing up, Gretchen Ozee Cawthon ’95 did many things girls weren’t “supposed” to do. She liked playing with Legos, then considered a toy only boys enjoyed. When she was in sixth grade, her school didn’t have a girls basketball team, so she tried out for the boys team — and made it. At 15, she received a drum set for her birthday and for her first two years at Millikin, Cawthon was the only woman in the percussion department.
Going against conventions wasn’t always easy. In 2005, Cawthon was pushing a business partner to improve their web design. She had entered the partnership with experience in computers and web design, and knew how to build a website. The partner, however, told Cawthon’s husband, Doug (also a partner in the business), that “women can’t do web design.” Gretchen quit the partnership.At the time, Gretchen and Doug’s two daughters were in grade school, and Cawthon wanted to be home with them after school and available to go to their activities. Doug suggested she get a job that allowed her to work from home. “Make a T-shirt, sell it online or something,” he joked, telling her she should start a business and call it “Women Can’t WHAT?” She liked the idea. They modified the name to “Girls Can’t WHAT?” hoping to get younger generations involved, but Cawthon wondered, “Now what do I do with it?” She woke in the middle of the night with the idea of a website that could highlight what girls are doing, show off their ideas and draw attention to individuals who are breaking gender barriers, and girlscantwhat.com was born.
Nine years later, Cawthon runs a growing website that provides encouragement to girls and features a line of girl empowerment products. Cawthon says in high school she was “the kid doodling in the back of class … and friends thought it was cool to get a silly cartoon from me.” Now, her designs on magnets, mugs and yes, T-shirts, feature girls as doctors, mechanics, police officers, veterinarians, football players and even drummers.Daughters Katelynn, 16, and Kirstynn, 14, offer sugges-tions. Both currently play indoor soccer on the only co-ed team in the league. Cawthon says, “If someone tells them they can’t do something because they are girls, they say ?Girls can’t WHAT?' ... and then they usually ask me to make them a new design to wear.”Girls Can’t WHAT? led to another business opportunity for Cawthon when a site visitor was impressed and asked her to build a company website. That was seven years ago. Cawthon’s business, Thyme for Design Inc., has since designed several company websites, including the Ad Council of New York. She cites her music business major from Millikin as being extremely helpful in managing the financial aspects of her growing businesses.
In 2008, she began using 20 percent of her profits to provide micro-loans through Kiva, a program that allows a group of people to invest in an individual to help that person reach his or her goals. Cawthon intention-ally chooses women who need loans and enjoys hearing from them about their progress, including a woman who used the loan to help buy trucks for her plumbing business. As loans are repaid, Cawthon reinvests the funds into creating new loans. So far, Girls Can’t WHAT? has made loans to nearly 500 people through Kiva.“That’s the coolest part,” she says, “People are buying T-shirts and know that women are being helped by it.”
Amanda Hamilton '14 was a writing intern for the alumni and development office during spring semester. Immediately after her graduation in May, she and her grandparents embarked on a five-week trip out west, their graduation present to her.