Chevy Chase residents create new line of active wear
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are 146,000 apparel manufacturing employees in the U.S. Yes, those folks producing “Made in the USA” garments of all kinds. In some places, it’s trendy to wear clothing with such a patriotic label.
Now, a couple of 20-something Chevy Chase residents are helping to keep Kentucky clothing quite busy.
The clothing brand is called George Bear. It just hit the marketplace last fall with a much bigger rollout planned for 2013.
“They are technical outer wear (for technically demanding sports or other outdoor activities).We make 12 types of men’s and women’s jackets,” explained founder Matthew Wilson, 27. The brand name, George Bear, comes from the names of Wilson’s two dogs.
As for the Made in the USA claim: “We manufacture completely 100 percent in the United States. We’re the only brand (technical outdoor wear) that can say that,” Wilson stressed. “We purchase our fabric from Polar Tech, the same company that The North Face and Patagonia buy from. Our products are just the same, but we’re the only outdoor brand manufactured in the U.S.”
Wilson adds that the logos, zippers and ancillary items on the clothing are also American-made.
Until recently, the clothing was assembled at Phar Shar Manufacturing in Leitchfield, Ky., about 75 miles southwest of Louisville. But now the line of George Bear Wear is assembled at SEKRI (South Eastern Kentucky Rehabilitation Industries), a company which has an emphasis on employing disabled workers and wounded veterans.
Wilson says he and his friends have always enjoyed hiking and kayaking, which spurred his interest in starting his own outer wear company, his first business venture. Wilson’s step-father, Jim Hampton Plemmons, owner of Old Frankfort Stud in Woodford County, was instrumental in helping Wilson develop his business plan and launch George Bear.
During his late high school and early University of Kentucky years, Wilson was a ski technician at the former Phillip Gall’s Outdoor and Ski Store, now Benchmark Outdoor Outfitters, in Lexington. “We’re familiar with the industry and products, not just because we like them, but because we use them,” he said.
George Bear clothing became available last November online (georgebearwear.com) and at J&H Lanmark – The Outdoors Store.
The business is taking on the look of a family affair. Mark Zoller, the husband of Wilson’s cousin, Virginia, is a business advisor, and both are minority owners of the line. Zoller, a mechanical engineer, does data based analysis for George Bear.
“I told Matthew I don’t know much about fashion, but I can help with marketing and crunching numbers about the demographics of the customers he’s trying to reach, and in quantifiable metrics,” said Zoller, 29. He also helps track the company’s stock of materials, orders and sales.
“2013 is hopefully going to be the break out year. We’re in the midst of marketing to brick and mortar wholesale stores and local shops trying to get the name established. We’ll be hitting on all cylinders for fall and winter and the holidays,” he predicted.
Zoller says the target market for George Bear is young, at least initially. They’re seeking 18- to 24-year-old college students. The business model calls for penetrating college towns, specifically in the Southeastern Conference.
“We’ll market wholesale products into local shops only and will sell to just one shop in each town to create a demand. We’re not going immediately to the big boys (such as Orvis, REI and Dick’s Sporting Goods). We’re going to start low, grassroots, basement level and establish the name that way,” Zoller advised.
Zoller and Wilson say they know their target market and describe them as customers who want things small and organic. “We want to get directly into small shops that support their local communities,” Zoller said.
Wilson adds: “We are trying to set a new standard for how products are manufactured, shipped, carried and used.”
Although sales have begun, an important target month will be March when retail clothing buyers typically make their selections for the coming fall, holiday and winter seasons. That’s the timeframe George Bear wants to be ready for. “That’s what we’re pushing toward. Depending on who wants to pick us up, it will be into stores and on racks in October, along with the other brands that come out then, too,” Wilson said.
New for George Bear this fall will be different clothing patterns like a vest, a couple of jackets with hoods attached to them, some new ski gear and hiking/trekking gear. There will also be a line of t-shirts. One day, there might be children’s clothing, but not right away, says Wilson.
The first steps for these young entrepreneurs will be modest ones, but their enthusiasm appears boundless.