Plugging a Hole in the Market

If you are in passionate pursuit of your dreams, what you study in college may not necessarily determine your ultimate career path. April Singer Straten, creator of Rufus , studied broadcast journalism and spent five years in London introducing the Nautica brand to Europe, before launching a successful men's shirt company.

Upon her return to the U.S., Straten noticed the market lacked a more "relaxed" shirt for males apart from either classic boxy shape or European slim fit shirts. Setting out to create a brand that spoke directly to this underserved category of more casual American style, her boyfriend (now husband) was an instrumental source of encouragement.

Starting a business in a market she knew only as a consumer was what Straten found most difficult. "Probably the biggest challenge was the initial launch of the brand," Straten says. "American's are very brand conscious so trying to launch a new brand with zero brand awareness into the retail community was a challenge."

Today the industry has changed considerably, as recent economic downturn has cut into margins. Despite such challenges, Rufus has remained a key brand in a very competitive apparel market for the last six years. It's all about approach, and Straten's is based on commitment to impeccable quality, consistent deliveries, and dependable customer service.

"Our customer--this mid-tier luxury shopper," Straten explains, "expects quality and service and wants something distinctive and unique without paying one of a kind price points." Lucky for Straten, her customers agree and are appreciative of the focus on long-lasting, consumer-focused relationships.

Straten had to learn quickly how to balance raising a family and running a thriving business in today's volatile market. She credits technology for making it possible to run a business remotely. "When I am at our office I am focused on work, when I am with my kids I try to focus on them," she says. Though sometimes the blackberry comes out when it shouldn't. "I try not to be one of those moms pushing their kids on the swings while typing on the blackberry but sometimes I can't help it."

Rufus means red in Latin: bold, charismatic, undeniable. This compelling hue reflects the company's approach to life, as does Straten's plan to expand her business into the international markets within a few years. Big thinking like Straten's, combined with ability and confidence, will get you in a position not only to achieve your dreams but to influence others to do the same.