South Carolina company weaves conservation into new clothing line
OCTOBER 14, 2010 11:12 a.m. (0)
In their 20s and engaged to be married, they are taking their principles into business, establishing the Loggerhead Apparel Co. to make quality clothing in South Carolina and help textiles and the loggerhead from “going extinct here.”
Their inaugural product is a South Carolina-made pima cotton polo shirt with a loggerhead logo. Their first run of 2,500 “is just to give us some experience before Christmas and then we can look at some additional colors and follow up with a run to get ready for spring.”
“We are donating 10 percent of revenue – not profit – to the loggerhead conservation efforts,” Painter said.
Painter, 28, remembers a childhood and a family history of cotton fields and mills in what had been the world’s largest concentration of textiles before cheap labor sent textiles overseas, leaving behind “textile mill after textile mill abandoned and turned into condos.”
Painter was raised in a mill house just 100 yards from the then-Phillips Fibers plant in the Saxon section of Spartanburg.
“I have the textile industry in my blood from my grandparents and their brothers and sisters who worked in the mill,” he said.
Raynor, 27, grew up in a conservation-committed family in Romain Retreat, a private community of Awendaw “where it is impossible to live … for most of your life and not feel responsible for protecting its natural beauty.”
She tells of an area “rich with oak-hickory forest that to this day maintains dirt and gravel roads” and where the last inhabitants were Sewee Indians. It faces the Intracoastal Waterway and is near Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge, the longest stretch of protected coastline on the East Coast.
Her father Bob Raynor, who is actively involved in conservation efforts, particularly the Cape Island Turtle Project, introduced her to programs to preserve the loggerhead nesting grounds, which are threatened by pollution, shrimp skimming and development.
The loggerhead, South Carolina’s official reptile, has been on the threatened species list since 1978.
As they started to talk about making the shirt, said Painter, “we kind of got enamored with the calls made for preserving the loggerhead turtle (and) we started making the parallel that the loggerhead is as endangered as textile manufacturing in South Carolina.”
Everything about the polo shirt is South Carolina: “It is knit in Clover, prepped in Jefferson, dyed in Gaffney, and then sewn and finished in Lamar.”
Financing is from a local bank; graphic design is done here; accounting is by Painter’s accountant brother; business cards and hang tags are printed in Spartanburg; and Painter and Raynor run things while holding day jobs as account executives at Erwin-Penland.
“The only thing that isn’t happening here is where the cotton is grown,” says Painter. “We wanted to use pima cotton, which is a premium, lighter weight durable cotton than some of the stuff that is grown around here. We wanted something light weight that will last longer.”
They are buying cotton from a grower in the southwest, where the climate is more conducive to pima.
“That was one of the cool things we wanted to do,” said Painter. “If you do everything local, the customer service you get is amazing. When my shirts are ready, I can drive down and pick them up. I don’t have to wait for a freighter to cross the Pacific.
The polo, priced at $59, “puts us in a good spot because … with we are either in line or less than nicer quality polo shirts that can range anywhere from the high 50s to the $70-80 range,” Painter said.
“We were pretty confident we could make it happen even in a slow economic environment,” he said. “It was not like we were trying to create a complete clothing line overnight. We’re starting with a line of polo shirts and, assuming that goes well, we will launch further products in the same line.”
When Painter contacted manufacturers he couldn’t find anyone who knew who could make the shirt until someone suggested calling SEAMS, a nonprofit association of the sewn products association in Columbia.
Although they gave him one name and he expected a few, it turned out to be “a perfect fit,” Craig Industries in Lamar, a privately held maker of custom clothes. The other critical vendor is White Plains Knit Fabrics in Jefferson City.
Armed with “a pretty solid business plan” and blind surveys of a few hundred people indicating positive market potential, they went to two banks. Both were willing to approve a line of credit, and they signed with The Bank of Travelers Rest.
“Really the only thing we were borrowing was money for inventory,” says Painter. “All the setup costs for the company we paid for out of pocket.”
Even with everything falling neatly into place, Painter said, it was “scary writing the first check for my two tons of cotton. It was five figures.”
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