Outdoor enthusiasts create Tampa activewear firm with ‘Made in America’ cache and high-tech fabrics

By Margie Manning  –  Finance Editor, Tampa Bay Business Journal

When a Tampa couple who run and climb mountains couldn’t find the activewear they wanted, they decided to create their own.

Carrieann and Carl Gillert, co-founders of Vast Terrain, have invested about $200,000 of their savings into the young company, and now are testing the market for new product lines with a Kickstarter campaign.

Tampa has an abundance of startup companies, many of them in the technology sector. While Vast Terrain is an online ecommerce firm, it’s also a manufacturer, a more capital intensive industry, with its products produced entirely in the United States, where labor costs are higher than overseas markets.

Vast Terrain uses proprietary fabrics for its clothing and the company provides transparency around its supply chain, with a web-based sales platform that eliminates the need for brick and mortar and reduces costs. That business model, the Gillerts say, will distinguish Vast Terrain in a competitive market.

Transparency is key

The Gillerts, both 47 years old, were inspired by their own outdoor adventures, including scaling Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mount Elbrus in Russia. They wanted activewear that was made in the U.S., but couldn’t find it.

About 98 percent of the apparel that’s purchased in the U.S. is produced at least partially overseas, said Carl Gillert, who has kept his day job, as a vice president in finance at Tampa tech company Syniverse.

They also wanted fabric that would be soft, protect from moisture buildup and provide odor control. Finding what they were looking for took a lot of research, including trips to factories and hundreds of phone calls to mills, said Carrieann Gillert, who previously was CEO of TwoSmitten, an online company selling fashion-based women’s clothing.

It took a year to source everything, she said.

“We sought out different manufacturers of yarn, companies that did knitting and weaving, and saw technologies that had not been introduced to the market yet,” she said. “We worked with them to introduce the attributes we wanted.”

One of their vendors is a factory in Greensboro, North Carolina that produces yarn with unique characteristics such as air and moisture permeability.

“We took the yarn and worked with the mills to figure out how to weave it and dye it so it would work in the activewear market,” Carl Gillert said.

Fabric is woven at a plant in Roanoke, Virginia. They work with a company in Los Angeles that is one of the most technologically advanced circular knitting mills in the world. There’s a cut and sew facility in San Francisco, zippers come from Los Angeles, and trims from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Design is done in Santa Cruz, California.

The supply chain is on the company’s website.

“The key attribute is transparency. You can click through to see each factory. It really makes a strong connection with ‘made in the USA,’” Carl Gillert said.

It also provides quality control, said Carrieann Gillert.

“We’re on a first-name basis with the owners. They know who we are. We get responses more quickly, and we’re not tied up in customs,” she said. “We’re also keeping jobs in the U.S.”

Lower markup

But there are cost savings when they sell the finished products directly to consumers.

“The normal markup for Nike or Lululemon is 400 percent to 500 percent. Retailers need it to pay for brick and mortar and traditional advertising,” he said. “We don’t have those costs so our markup is half that.”

Vast Terrain products sell for up to 20 percent less than competitors, the company says.

The ongoing Kickstarter campaign is about halfway to its $10,000 goal. It’s intended as a proof of concept for the new designs the company is rolling out.

Growth will require more substantial funding, Carl Gillert said. They’ll continue to bootstrap the company until they get to the $1 million or so of revenue required to attract venture funders.

They’re making adjustments, based on feedback from participants in the Kickstarter campaign, and field testing by friends and amateur athletes. A full product rollout, including activewear for running, yoga, outside activities and for the gym, is planned in 2018.

The Gillerts could run Vast Terrain from anywhere, they said, but Tampa is a good location for a company with a supply chain that spans the East Coast to the West Coast; they can be at any supplier in a day.

Vast Terrain’s warehouse is in Tampa, along with some design, and they plan future model shoots at the local beaches and in the hills in southern Hillsborough County.