Entrepreneur: Steven Villegas, 38, founder of Utilikilts Co. LLC in Seattle
Description: Designer, retailer and manufacturer of American utility kilts for everyday wear
Startup: Less than $1,000 in 2000
2005 projected sales: $2.5 million
Baring all: When Steven Villegas transformed a pair of army surplus pants into a kilt, it was originally just for his personal comfort. But when heads turned and he received countless compliments on his legs, Villegas knew his creation had potential. So in April 2000, he brought his kilts to a weekly Seattle outdoor market, where he not only made his first sale, but also met future co-founder, Megan Haas, 33.
Embracing Change: Two SBA loans totaling $130,000 allowed the duo to develop their idea. Villegas sewed and handled bookkeeping in a small office, which did double-duty as a store, while Haas developed relationships with their growing list of international male and female customers. Before long, the company took on a life of its own among customers, who had a lot more in common than just an interest in wearing kilts. Open-minded and self-confident, they weren't afraid of unconventional garb and desired social change. Says Villegas, "I feel so fortunate to be doing something that's embraced by all the right people--people who want to assist change."
Road Trip: Today, Utilikilts come in six designs, including denim and leather. While Haas is now only with the company part time as she pursues other opportunities, the company has expanded online, opened a retail store, and is still going strong with its grass-roots effort. Teams of road crews travel to hundreds of festivals and events nationwide, where they're met by existing customers who model the kilts, show off their legs and help sell the product. "We're very enthusiastic and well-humored, and we make people smile," says Villegas. "We sell people freedom."
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