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Join the Specialty Apparel Market

There's still room in the apparel business. The key is to specialize your wares.

Everyone wants to feel special. That's why women will shell out serious money for a fantastic pair of shoes, even when there's a nearly identical pair at the discount store down the road.

Women are increasingly looking to specialty retailers to satisfy their appetites for hip, hard-to-find clothing. Even men are jumping onboard, with stores like ROAD Apparel--which started in 2005 when brothers Raj and Akhil Shah, 52 and 50, debuted a flagship store in downtown Seattle--offering specialty apparel for 30- to 60-year-old men. Sales for 2006 have already grown 700 percent over last year.

Among women, growth areas include specialty athletic apparel, maternity wear, footwear, clothing for over-40s, and petite and plus sizes. Think high-end: Market research firm The NPD Group notes that loyal customers of upscale retailers buy more than 25 percent of their apparel at high-end stores and spend an average of $95 per shopping trip.

That's where brands like Trigelle come into play. Liza Boquiren, 30, co-founded the Brea, California, women's golf wear company with sister and sole designer Lulu Faddis, 34, along with friends Jocylyn Corpuz and Karen Lee Santos, both 29. "We want to be the golf line that people go to," says Boquiren, who debuted their apparel at a trade show in 2004 with just 17 pieces. "We want to be a household name." Now available in more than 250 golf resorts, pro shops and high-end retailers worldwide, Trigelle projects $1 million in sales for 2007--helped in part by the three professional women golfers they sponsor.

Getting Started
Ready to get started with your own specialty apparel business? Don't bypass these tips:

  • Define your market, whether it's over-40 women or petite athletes. Doing so will help you determine where to focus your research and development. For Liza Boquiren, 30, co-founder with sister and sole designer Lulu Faddis, 34, along with friends Jocylyn Corpuz and Karen Lee Santos, both 29, of Brea, California, women's golfwear company Trigelle, that means enlisting the help of professional women golfers who not only wear Trigelle clothing, but also have great advice about how to design golf apparel. "Their insight is very important to us," she says.
  • Consider building e-commerce into your business. If word spreads about your specialty apparel, people will come looking for it. And if they can't find it in a store, they'll want to find it online. "We get calls every day from people asking how they can get a certain piece of clothing," says Boquiren.
  • Hone your selling skills. No matter where you sell your clothing, the bottom line is that there's going to be selling involved--either directly to consumers or to retailers. "Ask yourself, "How do I provide something different [than what they have]?" " says Boquiren. And for retailers, "keep in mind their clientele," she adds. "If it's not the right fit for them, back off."
  • Have a realistic outlook of startup costs. How much will you spend? How can you save money? Boquiren and her team spent about $100,000 of their own money to start and sought private investment capital later. They also worked out of their homes. Saving money in this way has allowed the company to expand into office space in Brea as well as a warehouse in nearby Santa Fe Springs.
  • Solve a problem. Boquiren solved a problem by creating cute golf apparel for women. Doing so has resulted in a loyal, growing customer base. And you can do the same. What problem can you solve?

Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.

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