Entrepreneur launches Minky scarf line
Special to the Daily
BEAVER CREEK — Imagine: It’s frigid outside. The snow is dumping, but you’re braving the elements to enjoy Mother Nature’s powdery gift. You’ve layered yourself from top to bottom. However, what you like most of all is that touch of Minky against your face as you plunge into the steeps in Beaver Creeks’ Stone Creek chutes.
Minky? Yes, Minky. You’re wearing a “made in America” neck warmer from GuSStuff USA. You feel as though you’re swaddled in a baby’s blanket, warm and protected because Minky, also known as GusFuzz, is the same plush hypoallergenic microfiber fabric used worldwide for baby blankets. And that’s just how GuSStuff got its start, as a baby blanket.
Named for founder and creative genius Judy Holmes’ late St. Bernard Gus, GuSStuff is a line of made-in-America winter accessories born on a sewing machine in Beaver Creek and now made in 28 homes of stitchers in New England. Holmes, a graduate of the University of Vermont who also received an MBA from the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, grew up on skis in Vermont. Winter is in her DNA.
In 1988, Holmes and her husband, Jim Progin, settled into winter residence in Beaver Creek, where her photographic talents emerged. Whether it’s skiing, snowshoeing, trekking or just savoring the stunning winter beauty of the Rockies from behind her camera, Holmes loves the outdoors in all kinds of weather. When she’s inside, Holmes is often at her sewing machine where GuSStuff was born.
Holmes’ passion for needlecrafts began in her second year of business school when she began making teddy bears and quilts “to balance all the studying with manual labor.” It quickly became her passion that she would take into the next phase of her life as a human resources professional and sought-after global speaker on outdoor photography.
Handmade Minky blankets became Holmes’ signature gift for friends and family with new babies. Not one to waste such a special, cashmere-like fabric as Minky, Holmes began using blanket scraps to make reversible neck warmers as gifts for visiting friends.
When friends began asking her to make as many as 50 to 100 pieces for them to buy and give as holiday gifts, Holmes’ business acumen kicked in and the entrepreneurial light went on. “Was there a business opportunity here?” she asked herself. Even more important to Holmes was the question, “Was there a way to create an avenue for home stitchers to sell their work to a larger market?”
Focusing on Success
Holmes was convinced Minky was perfect for the demanding use in winter accessories. The soft, plush reversible fabric created especially for the baby blanket market “wears like iron,” given it doesn’t shrink, fade, pill or bleed colors. It’s safe and can endure hundreds of trips through the washing machine. Most importantly to Holmes, “Minky doesn’t feel like a Brillo pad on the skin” like so many synthetic products. With the wide variety of Minky prints, solids and embossed designs, Holmes was convinced there would be a “never-ending combination of unique accessories.” It was time to test the market.
Holmes gathered her skiing friends in Beaver Creek and conducted a focus group to study her designs. She then took accessory prototypes to friends who owned ski shops in New England. With the collaborative “thumbs up” from Beaver Creek and New England, Holmes returned to Maine, where she set her plan in motion.
Holmes’ mission was two-fold. First, she wanted to employ talented women who, because of the lack of manufacturing jobs utilizing their skills in New England, needed an outlet for their products. Secondly, she was determined to design, create and sell unique high-quality outdoor winter fashion accessories with a “made in America” brand. It pains Holmes that Minky is only made in South Korea, where 10 factories meet the world’s demand for this special fabric, but her long-term goal is to create a vertically-integrated company where everything is made in America.
Her first ads in the local Maine paper yielded 17 professional home stitchers. Holmes trained the women on her designs and strict quality control standards. She requires stitchers to care for the fabric in their possession, respond timely to orders and, just as important, to have fun.
2015 and Beyond
Today, Holmes’ five-year old cottage industry consists of 28 home stitchers in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley and Maine. Most, but not all, of the highly skilled stitchers are quilters.
Seizing on the opportunity to clothe visitors from around the world in GuSStuff, Holmes licensed the FIS 2015 World Championship logo. She now has 21 stitchers hard at work creating 2015 logo wear, including her exclusive camouflage design, for sale in Vail Valley to send the message around the world that the lights are still on in American manufacturing, however small the niche.
To experience that touch of Minky and support the made-in-America brand, ask for fun, funky and fuzzy GuSStuff products at Base Mountain Sports in Beaver Creek, Christy Sports, Pepi’s in Vail and O’Bos logo shops in Vail and Beaver Creek.