Fort Collins, Colorado
4 full-time, 2 independent contractors
Apparel and accessories
Fort Collins, Colorado
Employees: 4 full-time, 2 independent contractors
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Apparel and accessories
Akin went to school for fashion design, but "jumped around," she says, describing post-collegiate pursuits that landed her in retail and restaurant management and, later, home building. In 2005, Akin's eclectic resume coalesced when the entrepreneur founded a lifestyle brand in her studio apartment in Houston, where she screenprinted designs on T-shirts.
"At the time, I was doing a lot of wakeboarding," Akin recalls. She focused on high fashion in design school; years later, she realized she could design apparel for outdoor enthusiasts rather than runway models.
During her company's inaugural years, Akin hocked shirts and tanks at wakeboarding events, bars, and "wherever else I struck up a conversation with people who were interested," she says. "My inventory was always on me, and that was my sales platform."
When the Houston housing market crashed and Akin's full-time employer went bankrupt, the designer relocated to Steamboat Springs and took up snowboarding, and added a few cold-weather offerings -- beanies and hoodies -- to her growing line of casual wear.
"Beanies are what we've become known for," Akin explains. They're knitted in-house on vintage, hand-operated sewing machines with yarn sourced from Canada, though that might change as Akin looks into sheep farms in Colorado and Wyoming. Other winter-centric accessories -- headbands, infinity scarves -- are crocheted by hand, usually by Akin, at the 1,000-square-foot Akinz retail store, which opened in 2012 and doubles as the company's factory.
"It's pretty small, and we've outgrown it," Akin admits. But customers appreciate the "homegrown feel," she adds, and Akinz has become a popular destination for locals entertaining out-of-towners in need of cool Colorado swag.
Screenprinted T-shirts and tanks sell almost as well as Akinz beanies. "We're still buying from blanks companies," Akin says, adding, "We're trying to move into our own cut-and-sew [facility]."
The shirts are clever, funky, and customizable. "You can pick out a style, choose your color, and we'll make it," Akin explains. The designer also hosts live events, when guests can "get involved in the manufacturing process," she says.
Sweatshirts, leggings, hats, and kids gear augment Akinz mainstays. The latter has "grown out of demand," Akin says, noting that she produced kids clothing by special order until 2016, when she "made it official, and added a children's section to the store."
"We sell online, and are just starting to grow our wholesale offerings," Akin continues. The majority of her 20 wholesale accounts are in Colorado -- though the company has a couple of satellite locations on the West Coast. "We also do drop-shipping," Akin adds.
"When I started this company, it was a hobby," says Akin, noting that growth has been slow and steady. "That feels very grassroots."
Challenges: Akin is grappling with how to keep her products handmade. "That's been the main challenge in growing really fast," she says. "It's hard to scale with handmade products, but I don't want to lose that touch. That's what we've grown on, and that's why people like our brand."
Opportunities: Marketing! "I haven't excelled at getting my name out there," Akin admits, though she'd like to grow her company's wholesale and private-label accounts.
Needs: "We're maxed out at our current space," Akin says. "But having to sustain the cost of another manufacturing site is a barrier." Capital would help, of course. Akin, though, says she wants to "grow organically, without borrowing money."