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Local entrepreneurs share insights on apparel

Should companies use American manufacturers or work with foreign factories? Should they branch into new products or stick to the basics?

Local entrepreneurs making a name for themselves in the apparel business tackled these tough topics Thursday at a meeting of Venture Forum RVA.

Stacy Struminger, who co-founded Henrico County-based RainRaps with Rachel Teyssier, said the company has kept its focus on its water-resistant garment rather than branch into multiple product lines.

“If we do rain hats or rain boots, we have to compete against experts in their own field,” Struminger said. “We feel like we’ve created a new category of women’s accessory and are focused on that.”

Matt Rho, a partner at Richmond-based Shockoe Denim, which makes high-end jeans, said his company expanded its product line after visits this summer to trade shows.

“If you just make one thing, people walk right past you,” he said. “You have to show people a full look. Even if we don’t sell much menswear, we have to have it to create that full look.”

Mason Antrim, co-founder of Collared Greens, a menswear company that sells products manufactured only in the United States, said the Henrico business is looking to move beyond ties and accessories.

“We are launching a shirt this fall and a bathing suit in the spring,” he said. “We want to grow our product offerings.”

Dylan Roukous, founder of Nectar Sunglasses in Richmond, said he doesn’t believe the equipment and know-how to make sunglasses is currently available in the United States.

Struminger said she and Teyssier originally hoped to manufacture in the U.S. but discovered they needed to buy their fabric in China. It made more economic sense to have the stitching done where the fabric is made.

Andy Jacobs of Cudas Footwear in Hanover County said manufacturing for the water shoes and sandals made by his company is feasible only overseas. The company’s lower price point, he said, makes American factories too expensive.

Rho said his company, Shockoe Denim, is committed to making its jeans in a Shockoe Bottom building that serves as retail shop and factory.

“But we can do it because we make very expensive jeans, and our price point justifies the work we do here,” he said. The jeans sell for $200 to $300.

Antrim concurs. While Collared Greens’ American-made products cost more than many competitors, manufacturing those items at home is a strong marketing angle for the business, he said.

The group also talked about managing the stress of entrepreneurship.

Roukous of Nectar Sunglasses said he and his cofounders rely on René Haines, an executive coach, to give them a fresh set of eyes on difficult problems.

Also, Nectar’s leaders regularly write down company goals.

“We have three white boards, and we write down our one-month, one-year and five-year goals on them,” Roukous said. “As we cross them off, we sit down and build a new list.