2014 Young Colorado Entrepreneurs: Suzanne Akinz of Akinz Clothing
Suzanne Akinz: Age 32
The fight a clothing company often encounters is that of keeping production local. Unfortunately, it’s a one-sided fight regularly ending with production moving overseas. That’s not the case for Akinz clothing. After nine years in business, the company still produces its handcrafted and custom beanies and shirts in its Fort Collins shop, a venture many business analysts would shun for inefficiency. Yet this in-house production has given Akinz a quality and authenticity that’s propelling the Colorado lifestyle brand to global recognition. And founder Suzanne Akinz is perfectly content keeping things the same. In fact, she said she hopes to inspire and help educate other businesses to keep things local as well.
We hope to be able to become a global brand while remaining true to our start and keeping manufacturing of our beanies in-house. We also hope to remain and become an even greater manufacturing resource for other brands out there getting started. The evolution of us figuring out how to manufacture so many of our products in house has come out of necessity, and it has been a bumpy learning process. We’d love to be able to help other small brands who want to keep production local and wouldn’t be able to meet quantities from China anyway.
Tell us why you love what you do:
First off, I’ve always dreamed of creating clothing. I love the process of seeing an idea become a reality. And then it’s even better when someone walks in and loves something you’ve created enough that they want to give you money for it. We’re also getting to experiment a lot more ever since opening the shop almost two years ago. It’s seriously awesome to be like, “You know what would be rad? This…” and then see it hanging in the store for sale the next day.
What have you learned about yourself while running your business?
I’ve learned I’m willing to sacrifice a lot to achieve my dream. I’ve also learned I’m a little bit of a workaholic and sometimes have to remind myself to leave work at work, but that’s pretty hard when you love your job. Oh, and that I work best when I can work as a team and bounce ideas around.
How do you keep up with the changing business landscape?
Well, you kind of have to go where the people are. The shop has helped a lot with word of mouth, but we’re constantly try to improve our web presence through online marketing. We went to SnowSports Industries America this year to try to build a bigger wholesale business, and more and more shops are looking for their own “shop lines,” so we’ve been making some private-label beanies for both shops and other brands in addition to our own beanies.
Where do you see your industry going in the future?
I think there’s a big push to help save “core boardshops,” and I really hope people pay attention to that and shop at their local shop so that they don’t all start to disappear. But I think a lot of customers in the boardsports industry specifically are looking to shop mainly online. That’s why we keep our retail sales open instead of just doing wholesale … shops have tighter spending budgets and don’t always have room for the new brand on the block.
How do you measure success?
Man, that’s a hard one to answer. If you told me my annual sales this year were going to be what they are, I would have thought I’d be making some pretty decent money by now, but as you grow your expenses grow too. So in my mind you can’t measure success by the numbers or by your paycheck. I think every new wholesale account is a victory. Our online orders auto print onto our shop printer, and when Darth Vader (our printer) fires up and neither Wil nor I are on our computers, we still get excited. I think we find success every day in some way or another. When I see my clothes out in public, that’s success to me. When I see people driving around town with our die-cuts on the back of their cars and the person driving isn’t someone I know, to me, that’s success.
What’s the biggest myth in business?
That you’re going to start your own business so you can be your own boss and you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. I’ve put in some serious hours on this business, weekdays, weekends, holidays, whatever. But I think you can get to that point. I think if you build a solid business with solid employees who care about the company as well, at some stage you will get at least a taste of that freedom. I’m hoping for another 100-day riding season again sometime in my future … or at least a 30-day season.
What was the toughest part about your first year in business?
The first three months are easy. You’re excited; every sale means your company is growing and all of your friends and family are stoked to help support you. Then you run out of family and friends. Getting your name out there is the hardest part. You can have the most amazing product in the world, but if no one sees it, you’re dead in the water.
Favorite business book:
“The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber or “Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell.
Favorite part about running your own business:
When I have that moment where I look around and realize “I built this,” or when someone tells me they like my shirt/hat/etc. and then follows it with “I love Akinz” not knowing I’m the owner and designer. Oh, and I got celebritied the other day. That was kind of fun.
Best advice you’ve received:
That there are going to be good days, bad days, successful events and failures, but each one of those is getting me closer to where I want my brand to be.
Best advice you have for aspiring entrepreneurs:
Figure out your end goals before you start along your path, and you’ll get there much more quickly.