The Company: Shwalla
Founder: Brad Weisman
Category: Performance Apparel
The Name Shwalla
Shwalla is a fictional spirit that my business partner and I made up. It is the spirit that invades the soul of an athlete who never feels fatigue when training. It is that numb feeling an athlete gets when running mile after mile and never getting tired. I understood this spirit best when completing the 2003 Chicago marathon. Never once was I tired.
in his own words...
It was during the 2002 Winter Olympics that I began running through the winter in Chicago. I was running 4 days a week, 5 to 15 miles per day. Through training, I finally reached a level of stamina that was unreal. However, I was freezing in those wintry conditions. How did the athletes performing in the luge keep warm in those cold temps? It was clear their garments were made from fabrics that provided protection from the wind and the cold. If only I could have a running shirt that would do the same. I must have thought that over and over all winter long during that season.
With the aid of the Internet, I started my research. I located a Columbus, Ohio based company called Icebeams International. They make garments for speed skaters in addition to people that participate in luge. I had a close friend draw a picture of what I wanted the shirt to look like, scanned it into my computer and emailed it to Icebeams. A week or so later, I drove out to Icebeams and talked further about the design of that shirt. After about an hour of discussion we picked out a fabric and they created my design. The funny part of this story is that I was just making a shirt to stay warm and not trying to create a venture. Custom apparel firms like Icebeams exist all over the US, however it is expensive to use them and they are hard to find.
I came back to Chicago and ran the remainder of that winter in the shirt. Not only was I warm, I was almost too warm. It was incredible! It made me start to think of developing a temperature specific line that would cover all seasons. However, I wanted a world-class athlete to provide input into the development of this idea. I recalled a guy I had met many years ago in High School named David Cruikshank. Dave participated in the last 4 Olympics for speed skating. How was I going to get in touch with him? Would he take me seriously? I contacted the US Speed Skating Association via email and said that I was looking for David Cruikshank. I alluded to the fact that I had a business that I wanted him to learn about. Nearly 2 weeks went by, and I heard nothing. So, I forgot about the idea. It was not much later that an email appeared in my in-box from Dave.
Dave stated that I was catching him at a great time, and we should get together. He was winding down his speed skating career, and I was just starting a venture that excited me! I drove out to Dave's home, and we started talking. The conversations became long and the ideas got better and better. I was now driving out to see Dave on a fairly regular basis concerning this idea of temperature specific garments. We were refining the idea and looking for resources.
It was clear that starting a company would take some money, and I needed to form a plan. At the same time I was developing the idea, I was also earning my MBA. During the first year of business school I began to build a business plan that showcased the product line in addition to the necessary financials. The business plan took a year to write and rewrite.
The business plan became my tool to attract investors in addition to gaining athlete's interest in being a part of the venture. The business plan was good, however I needed more tools in my arsenal to make things happen. I began to attend trade shows all over the country. I first went to The Super Show in Las Vegas and then began attending the Outdoor Retailer (OR) tradeshow in the summer and winter in Salt Lake City. The OR tradeshow was a perfect fit for my line and the right contacts attended. I have gone to the last 3 OR shows in Salt Lake City. It was at OR that I briefly met Kenneth "Hap" Klopp. Hap gave a great presentation focusing on the present and future vision of the outdoor apparel industry. I got his business card and left Salt Lake City that day. During his presentation I learned that he was the founder of The North Face. He founded TNF in the late 60's and sold it in the late 80's. It was clear he had some success and might be a great resource down the line. Hap and I kept in contact over the months that followed. Ultimately, he advised me on building the Shwalla brand and made a small investment. He began to help steer my vision.
It was now time to line up resources for sourcing, materials, and industrial design. I met Northbrook native Louis Foreman at the Super Show in Las Vegas and we discussed my venture. Louis owns a company in Charlotte, NC, called Enventys, which could provide many of the resources I needed. Enventys helped with the industrial design of the line, identified a US factory, and researched the perfect Swiss fabric supplier for my garments. Once we had a factory, we also began to pump out prototype product and test it with the help of the athletes we had identified.
I now had all the resources I needed. I did all of this over the course of 2 years and many hours of work. I have also done all this work without making a dime. My heart was in it! My mind has never been so focused on something that I care about so much. I have also been fortunate to have the support of family and a wonderful girlfriend and her family. We began selling in mid-April attacking several specialty stores in Chicago and the suburbs. Ultimately we will hit the country. The road of excitement has just begun.
The best part of the story is that I started this business the old fashioned way. Just plain, hard work and persistence.
Read a Review on the Shwalla Apparel on xtri
Posted: March 9, 2005