By Вen Li
Young people on tight budgets often sacrifice quality for price. At this institute of higher learning, it is not uncommon to see expensive brand-name everything give way to cheap sweat pants and stained t-shirts by the end of first year. Three U of C students hope to change this trend by providing the best of both worlds with their start-up clothing business Ruffnek Gear.
“Basically, the name Ruffnek came from CJSW,” said Paul Chinook, the self-proclaimed ideas guy and President of the three-man venture. “I was DJ Ruffnek, and it seemed to be an interesting name.”
Chinook recalled that as a child, he always had an interest in clothing, and thinking of ways to improve items he saw around him. He combines these interests along with those of Ruffnek Gear’s vice-presidents Carlos Koch and Jeremy Ramage to make clothes look and feel better for the average person.
“Clothes should be about clothes,” he said. “Most of the cool clothing is now sports stuff or skater stuff or snowboard stuff. We like those fashions but not the stigma of being a poser that can be attached if you just wear the clothes.”
Chinook hopes that Calgary’s youth, especially the 20,000 around campus, will be receptive to the clothing and the Ruffnek brand name. They hope to achieve this by being receptive to the need of their customers.
The business currently offers both its own branded clothing, and custom-produced silk-screened articles including t-shirts, baby t’s, hoodies, mugs, and key chains, hoodies, and toques. While Ruffnek has not secured custom orders from the U of C campus, they are in talks with student groups such as fraternities, clubs and floors in residence to produce custom clothing.
As a startup business, Ruffnek’s success relies heavily on personal and word of mouth marketing, and their website www.ruffnek.ca. In the first two weeks of March 2003, they sold half of their first run of 100 limited-edition shirts at $30 each. They hope to increase sales through independent boutiques including one atop the Calgary Tower, but Ruffnek is currently experiencing difficulties getting retailers on campus to sell their products.
“They don’t seem to want to work with us, they’re not very receptive to students,” said Chinook of an unnamed retailer. “Their bottom line is money, they don’t want to foster a student business. To retail our products, they want investments in money, time and paperwork that we aren’t able to do.”
“With less than $3,000 invested, it’s a bare-bones operation at this point, so we want to do as much as we can ourselves,” Chinook said. “But the cost of manufacturing the clothes ourselves is too high, and we didn’t want to sink a lot of costs in destroying clothes.”
Each of the three entrepreneurs spend three to four hours per day on the business in addition to their various commitments at the U of C. According to Chinook, they have aspirations for mass retail, but will wait until business has grown enough to produce 500 units at a time.
“Unfortunately, we’re fairly rigid about how far the profit margin can move down, for the retail channel especially,” said Chinook. “Our products are not made in sweat shops.”