Fashion and lifestyle collide in an American Dream
Youth, vision and energy are the right combination for this Lifestyle Brand fashion business. Black & Denim Apparel Company has brought together three partners with very different backgrounds but one goal in mind – dressing comfortably and fashionably in clothes made in the U.S.A.
Roberto Torres, Luis Montañez and Christopher Findeisen first created a business plan that helped set the foundation and direction for the company. In 2008 the trio identified all the resources needed to get the materials and manufacturers to make the business profitable.
Today, they display three overall concepts across their lines – Americana, Music, and American Lifestyle. “It is a Lifestyle brand with a spirit as resilient as the American Dream,” says Roberto.
Black & Denim is made and sourced with 100 percent American raw materials.
On August 29, Black & Denim achieved another goal in its growth plan with a retail location in Ybor City. “Historic Ybor City made sense to us. It is a good fit with our brand,” Torres said of the location. Additional retail space is under consideration within Tampa at the Channelside Plaza and Tampa International Airport, but they are allowing time to dictate the speed upon which the stores will open.
In 2012, Black & Denim received a $25,000 cash prize from MillerCoors’ Urban Entrepreneurship Series (MUES). This allowed them to purchase equipment and systems getting this small business ready to break into big box retailers.
Along the way, Torres sought the assistance of the SBDC. “The support and guidance received by the SBDC staff encouraged us to present our application for the MUES, keep talking about our brand and looking for creative ways to growing the business organically.”
Black & Denim reached $100,000 in sales in 2012 and plans to double its sales by 2014. In the first half of 2013 they secured distribution through 90 Stein Mart stores across Florida, increased their retail outlets to 39 states including New York, Texas and California. They are also in conversations with high-end retailer Nordstrom, and are negotiating with Macy’s to have their products in 25 stores by spring 2014.
Their work ethic took the trio to Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center through their exhibition of American-made products in 2012. As a result of this opportunity, Black & Denim now has five design lines doubling the inventory at EPCOT Center.
Always looking to grow and expand, they continue their education through ‘The Workshop’ at Macy’s, an exclusive retail vendor development program designed to give select high potential minority and/or women business owners the tools to better succeed and sustain growth in the retail industry, leading them to develop a collection for the retailer. Black & Denim has also presented its private label offerings to Coca Cola and Major League Baseball in continued growth efforts.
Part of the growth path for Black & Denim includes increasing their international market. To achieve this goal the company is working with the Florida SBDC at USF’s international trade experts and other consultants. Torres sees this support as, “a way to provide our goals with the map to successfully grow our business in Latin America, Europe, and Africa.”
Torres is also working with Enterprise Florida and will be participating in an upcoming trade mission to Canada.
“The SBDC has been instrumental in helping us design a path for growth that is attainable and sustainable,” Torres said.
The trio has been tapped by the University of Tampa and Florida State University to be speakers for their entrepreneurship classes. With six full time employees and a sales force across the nation, Black & Denim has traveled across the United States presenting its products and participating in national events such as the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Conference in Los Angeles, the IConexion Latino Hive Event in San Antonio, and the National Minority Supplier Development Council Annual Conference in Denver. They are already designing the 2014 fall/winter collection and continue to present their American-inspired, American-made, American-owned business.
While the trio has proven themselves in small business circles, Torres says it is important to continue to work with consultants at the SBDC. “The SBDC allows us to excel in those areas where we are not experts in such as marketing and international trade,” Torres said. “They have supported us from the beginning.”