Vela Apparel’s Elise Holmes named finalist in the Title Nine Movers and Makers Pitchfest
Elise Holmes, majority owner of Vela Apparel, is one of nine finalists in Title Nine’s annual Movers and Makers Pitchfest. The women-first outdoor apparel brand supports female business owners each year with its pitch competition, open to majority woman-owned brands. The winner earns the moniker Title Nine Mover and Maker, and their products will be sold online at titlenine.com.
“Being a part of that is such an honor,” Elise said. “I was so excited to even have this opportunity, and then to be narrowed out of 100 woman-owned businesses.”
Even without a pitchfest that champions women building each other up and paying it forward, Elise still holds those values at the core of her brand and her position as a woman business owner.
“It means being someone that other people can look to when they’re trying to do something,” Elise said. “I try to think of myself as a bit of an open book. If we make a relationship, I am happy to tell you the failures I’ve had and the successes and the tips and tricks.”
She and her husband Matt started Vela Apparel on a vacation to Italy. It had been raining for several days, and Elise sat down with her iPad to draw what would become the brand’s flagship whale design. When she was done, she and her husband Matt realized they could actually fulfill her lifelong dream to have a clothing line. They started the business plan in Italy, and Vela Apparel was born in 2016.
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They had already dipped their feet into the business world by selling puzzles in 2012, which ironically made a huge comeback in March and April during the throes of coronavirus lockdown. From there, they moved into apparel, which is now the brand’s bread and butter.
They initially joined a creative startup accelerator for funding, but investors turned them away: “You’re just another t-shirt company. Why would we ever put money into you?” Elise recalled.
That failure fueled the Holmes’ to get creative and scrappy with their business plan. When a representative from Title Nine encouraged Elise to apply at the Outdoor Retailer trade event in Denver this past February, she used overcoming failure with the accelerator as the inspiration for the application submission video.
Title Nine narrowed the applicant pool down to one hundred core businesses. The nine finalists, selected from that group, will have the opportunity to virtually pitch their brands to Title Nine executives in San Francisco on Sept. 25.
Regardless of the pitchfest’s outcome, Elise is honored and grateful for the nomination. She’s loved Title Nine since she was a kid. Growing up in the ‘90s, she wore boys’ soccer shorts because there were no girls’ shorts. But when the Title Nine catalogue came in the mail, she loved seeing strong women that she could relate to and admire.
“Title Nine was a big influence on me. They were trying to say, ‘hey, here’s stuff for women.’ They’re all about supporting women. Even the models they use have backstories. I’ve always been inspired by that,” she said.
She’s continuing to be an ambassador of good will and togetherness among women business owners.
“There are so many people who look up to her. I have some guy friends that are also business owners that look out for each other, but I’ve been privy to her conversations with women business owners who say, ‘I don’t have everything figured out like you, please help me.’ They really look to her as someone who has the answers and is really approachable,” Matt said.
“I didn’t really have that in the way of women, so I want to be that for other women in business,” she said. “I want to be someone that is available because there is so much to learn.”
Now that she is a woman business owner, Elise has been able to connect with others like her in the community. She likes to work together, informally by sharing tips and tricks and formally by carrying products in the shop.
One such brand is Wolf People Designs, based out of Avon. The jewelry designer, Gemma Hearn, grew up in South Africa, and makes pieces inspired by and made in her home country. Vela carries her products, providing a platform to help each of them.
The brand’s name even further embodies that mission: the connection to travel, adventure and camaraderie. Vela is a smaller constellation within the Argo Navis, a ship in the southern sky: it’s the mainsail pushing the ship forward. Vela represents the inspiration Elise finds from adventuring, heading out of her comfort zone and bringing others along for the ride.
Vela Apparel is releasing a new line in October. The store is located in EagleVail, and is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, visit velapparel.com.