Talk about a gift that keeps on giving. When Stephen Sullivan received a pair of pants as a gift, he and friend Brian Cousins saw an entrepreneurial opportunity. Working at the same outdoor retail shop and sharing a passion for skiing and climbing, the friends banked on their belief that the pants' comfortable, lightweight Schoeller fabric would be the next big thing in active outdoor apparel. In 1997, they founded Cloudveil, purchasing the fabric from manufacturer Schoeller Textil USA. and starting a new category of stretch woven fabric known as "soft shell."
Cloudveil's location among the mountains surrounding Jackson, Wyoming, presented some unique circumstances. Without many resources nearby, the company had to outsource distribution and pattern-making. Cousins and Sullivan have said no to plans to relocate Cloudveil, however--product development couldn't get any better where lifts, trails and lakes are minutes away from the office. "We can have a sample out the door and tested the same day," Sullivan explains. "That's something the bigger companies just can't do."
With 2001 sales of $2.1 million, Cloudveil's current challenge is becoming a major player in an industry shared with giants like Columbia. But with the tag line "Live close to your dreams," Sullivan and Cousins' dreams are already their reality.
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So were you the first to bring this fabric into the outdoor apparel market?
Stephen Sullivan: One other company I'm aware of, Patagonia, had built a pair of pants out of a similar fabric, but they weren't really pitching it. Once it hit the mainstream level, the big companies were pretty quick to jump on what we were doing. But we were fortunate to have a pretty core little following, that has supported our continued growth. Now it's time to start to capitalize off the brand we built.
How did you and Brian Cousins meet?
Sullivan: We met working at an outdoor retail shop, Skinny Skis, in Jackson. Both of our backgrounds were working primarily in outdoor retail stores as management or buyers. We knew we didn't want to work for someone else and wanted to get into a category that had a lot of potential for growth. I kept coming up to apparel. I knew I could design good apparel.
With a small budget, what did you do to get your name out there?
Sullivan: We took a unique approach to developing our brand. One of the foundations of our business plan was to immediately hire a PR firm, and we chose Backbone Media. They shared the same philosophy--they were all end users: skiers, kayakers, climbers. We were making a unique new product, so it was a perfect marriage. We did grassroots marketing, like getting involved key organizations in the industry to help foster positions, sponsoring outdoor events. We haven't invested a tremendous amount into marketing, but it's done tremendously. We've had over 400 editorial placements in five years; we've been in Men's Journal, Backpackers, Skiing, Climbing, Self, Shape.
If Cloudveil expands even bigger, do you think you'll move operations?
Sullivan: We're pretty adamant about keeping the core of the business here. Sales, marketing and product development are three aspects we'd like to remain in Jackson. Depending on what happens financially, it may change, but we're pretty rooted there. One of the big keys we'd really lose out on is product development.
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This article was originally published in the November 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Got ID?.
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