Employees: 3 (plus several independent contractors)
Catherine Poirier's fashionable homegrown threads typify the quality and wearability of U.S.-made. Convincing retailers to sell local is a tougher fit.
Body Bark Founder and President Catherine Poirier, a corporate expat who traded her fast-paced business life for children, never set out to manufacture clothes. But when she stumbled upon an infomercial from a woman who profited using faux Chinese takeout boxes for packaging, Poirier decided, heck, she could make something, too.
But what? Weeks later Poirier was putting on a sweater, and realized nobody ever knows what to wear underneath bulky, cold-weather essentials -- suddenly, her luxury line of undershirts materialized.
The momprenuer (who hates the term "momprenuer") launched her biz with six staples that included short and long-sleeved options for three classic styles: the modest scoop, deep scoop and V-neck. Initially, the intent was something with a clean neckline that customers would wear discretely beneath sweaters and suiting.
"Because these shirts are the kind of thing you want to wear all of the time, we started making more," says Poirier. Today, dozens of versatile styles are available online, including (very popular) camisoles and tanks. Poirier relies on a faithful following of loyal customers who are drawn to the feel of the fiber.
You don't have to be a fashionista to know that you get what you pay for. "It's not the cheapest shirt in the world because the fabric is great and the fabrication is beautiful," Poirier says. Her premise, though, is that less is more -- that it is better to have a few, high-quality pieces than disposable clothes galore.
Each underpinning is made from a MicroModal and Lycra combination that's sourced from sustainable Beechwood trees, which is where the "bark" of Body Bark comes in. "These are technical pieces to sew because of the design and the fabric," Poirier explains. The result? They're insanely comfortable, they wick well and the shirts always hold their color in the wash. "You start wearing it and don't want to wear anything else," says Poirier.
The eco-friendly shirts are economically ethical, too. Fabric is knitted in L.A., then sewn in South Carolina. Poirier briefly considered going offshore, she says. "With all the things that go along with managing something overseas, it became clear that offshore manufacturing is very tricky and not necessarily worth it." Poirier likes supporting our local economy, and, even more, she likes being able to visit her factory and know, first-hand, that conditions are to her liking.
Body Bark is sold nationwide, and was even picked up by Neiman Marcus for a while. The focus, says Poirier is wholesale distribution, although online sales have added revenue. Regionally, Poirier finds support at boutiques like Parker Panache, Rosey's by Diane, and Mariel Boutique, among others.
Challenges: "Time is the biggest one," Poirier says. Finding the right distribution channels, engaging sales reps, hitting trade shows, reaching customers -- these things take time, and Poirier can't be everywhere at once.
Opportunities: There are many, Poirier says, but developing brand recognition is at the top of her list. The entrepreneur aspires to be another household name akin to Under Armour or Spanks. "Everybody should know about Body Bark," Poirier says. "If we give a sample away, people usually buy more because once you try it you get it." Because Poirier is funding Body Bark's marketing herself, she hasn't done a huge PR campaign yet. That's changing. Poirier recently hired somebody for the 2014 holiday push.
Needs: Expansion, and better support locally. "I definitely have a need for more retailers, and for boutiques to decide they want to support this." Even in Denver, Poirier has trouble engaging some local business owners -- ones she knows would be a great fit. "They often aren't willing to take on a new vendor," she says. The task becomes about developing the right sales force, and targeting the stores that will try Body Bark.