ICELab success story helps females “pee freely” in the outdoors
[ By Kendra Walker ]
A new outdoor clothing company solving the problem females face in the great outdoors when nature calls is putting down roots in the Gunnison Valley.
SheFly Apparel aims to help women pee outside more discreetly with pants that are designed with a strategically placed, patented zipper that allows the wearer to go to the bathroom outside without having to pull their pants down. So everyone can answer nature’s call without exposing skin to the elements or to other people, says the SheFly website.
SheFly, originally hailing from Vermont, participated in last spring’s Moosejaw Outdoor Industry Accelerator program hosted by Western Colorado University’s ICELab. During the program, SheFly founders had the opportunity to visit and live in Gunnison for five weeks, meet with mentors and connect with resources to grow their business. Over the last couple years, the program has resulted in several local success stories that have chosen the Gunnison Valley as their home, including Hustle Bike Labs and PACT Outdoors.
And the Gunnison Valley magic worked once again for the ladies of SheFly, who announced last week the establishment of their company headquarters in Gunnison at the ICELab.
“Before the Moosejaw Accelerator program, I didn’t even know Gunnison or Crested Butte existed,” laughs SheFly cofounder Georgia Grace Edwards. “But then I heard amazing things and was excited to come here. We had such a positive experience through the program and we met so many great people and got connected with a lot of resources. After the Accelerator, everything just sort of fell into place with funding from the City of Gunnison and the state of Colorado, so I never really left. It made a lot of sense to be in a place that gave us access to these resources and a great work/life balance.”
Edwards recalls how beneficial the accelerator program was for SheFly’s growth, especially since the company was previously a side hustle for the team, who was scattered across three time zones on top of working full-time jobs. “The Accelerator really taught us about operations and how to get our foot in the door – from building a financial model to obtaining our first wholesale retail purchase order to learning how to craft press releases – it gave us the skills and confidence to really make the dive and go full-time with it,” she says.
Edwards also recognizes all the people who were instrumental in teaching them and connecting them to investment opportunities throughout the entire process. And since participating in the Accelerator, SheFly has continued to stack up the successes, winning the Greater Colorado Pitch Series competition over the summer, winning the top MassChallenge $100,000 Diamond Award out of Boston this summer, and being named a finalist for the 2022 Outdoor Innovation Awards at Outdoor Retailer taking place later this month.
“The other finalists are some of the companies we look up to most in this industry,” says Edwards, noting Smith and Smartwool. Fellow Moosejaw Accelerator participant and CB-based company PACT Outdoors is also a finalist. “Even being on that list means a lot. It’s an incredible network, and really is proof that you can be successful in a small, rural environment,” she says.
As for what’s coming down the pipeline, Edwards says the team is bringing on a Western intern and is looking to start hiring at least four new positions this year. SheFly expects to create 24 new jobs over the next five years in roles that include management, design and marketing. SheFly is working with Quickfeat Garment Production in Hong Kong to manufacture their product.
Edwards says SheFly will also be starting presales this month and they are launching new colors. “Each color is named for a place that’s been important to SheFly’s journey,” she says. “Juneau Jade, a nod to when I first came up with the idea while working as a guide on a glacier in Alaska; Champlain Teal for Vermont’s Lake Champlain when we first started out of our dorm rooms at Middlebury College; and Black Canyon, in honor of Gunnison and our new home.”
ICELab director David Assad is excited to welcome SheFly to the Gunnison Valley business community, and proud that the ICELab has played a role in the company’s growth.
“During the Accelerator, we were able to bring in experienced entrepreneurs from Gunnison and Crested Butte and we have all these people here volunteering their time as mentors. And now the SheFly team is continuing to plug in and meet people.”
Assad hopes SheFly’s move to Gunnison is inspiring for others looking to start or build their small business idea. “This is an opportunity to show how much our community can support small businesses. If you run a business here, you’re really not alone. There are a lot of people willing to help and want to see success here, because it’s a big deal here. When you’re in this small-town environment we have the ability to support companies through our natural resources and entrepreneurial opportunities,” he says. “We’re creating a little bit of an outdoor industry hub here, and I do think this place can be a special place for outdoor companies specifically.”
Assad says that SheFly is already diving into the community, noting that Edwards will be teaching a session at the ICELab’s upcoming incubator program, and has been showing up to the ICELab’s Coffee with Coworkers networking events. She has also made time to talk with Western’s Academic Leadership Scholarship students and will be running a pitching workshop for students participating in the Modern Mountaineer Innovation Challenge this spring. “She’s already giving back and a part of our entrepreneurial community,” he says.
“That’s been really important to me,” says Edwards. “SheFly wouldn’t exist without the entrepreneurship exposure I got in college and the so many people who have helped me all this time, and so I want to mentor and expose others to the same resources and opportunities as well.”
Edwards is also diving into the many opportunities this community has to offer – from signing up for the Growler mountain bike race, to winning a pair of ROMP skis at a local raffle, to taking an Avy 1 course. “There’s been so many signs that this was the right move for me and for SheFly,” says Edwards. “I want to express my gratitude to everyone who showed me around and made me feel welcome.”
“Plus,” she adds, “living here has made me realize the market opportunity for us is even larger than I originally thought. I can put our product to the test in all these environments and activities. I keep getting into activities where I’m thinking, ‘This could be better with a pair of SheFlys!’”
As for those aspiring to follow in SheFly’s footsteps, applications for this year’s Moosejaw Accelerator program are being accepted until February 3. A group of judges will then narrow down the applicants to 10 finalists, and then the public will vote on the four winners who will participate in the program. To learn more and apply, visit https://www.moosejaw.com/content/moosejaw-outdoor-accelerator.
To learn more about SheFly Apparel, their zipper revolution and their hiring opportunities, visit www.sheflyapparel.com.