Small Business Opportunity: Smart Clothes
Smart clothing conjures up images of space-age Jetson style apparel. However, smart clothing is more about functionality than far-out space suits. Smarter apparel encompasses the customization of clothing to special markets ranging from performance apparel, sun protection, and aging-friendly clothing.
Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner, Kevin Plank, knows performance apparel is the best ticket. Plank has grown his company, Under Armour into a $100 million business. Under Armour is the originator of performance apparel with a line of microfiber clothing that pulls perspiration away from the skin to keep athletes cool and dry during physical activity.
John Barrow found business success in sun protection. Started in 2001, Coolibar offers a unique range of sun protective clothing, sun hats, and sun protective swimwear. The company website explains the benefits of this unique line of smart clothing, "Sun protective clothing is an excellent sun protection tool as it provides a physical block that doesn't wash or wear off and can shade the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Coolibar's clothing differs from standard attire by blocking 97% or more of UV rays and providing an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30 or greater." The company has even received The Skin Cancer Foundation's Seal of Recommendation.
Driving Force: A mature industry with most manufacturing moved overseas has left the apparel business in need of creativity and innovation. Consumers are open to ideas that meet their specialized needs.
Risks: The challenge of entering the smart clothing market is selecting a niche that's not too mainstream allowing bigger competitors to swallow market share before you get established. Conversely, a market too narrow can present problems with attaining break-even points and profitability. Success in the smart clothing industry will require the ability to outmaneuver large retailers who influence the apparel business. Selling to select markets (i.e. skateboard shops) and outsourcing the manufacturing process overseas can help to maintain profit margins.
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