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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 23, 2015 3 years ago

A good yarn

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Outdoor shirt maker Snikwah stands apart from competitors with its patented convertible neck that protects you from the elements.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

When you sell 10,000 shirts a month, you'd better have enough yarn.

Just ask Roy Smith, a Naples-based entrepreneur whose previous experience includes two decades manufacturing in China. “I just ordered six tons of fabric,” he says.

Smith's company, Snikwah, makes and sells outdoor sports shirts that feature a patented convertible neck that protects the head and face from the sun's rays and is made from a special wicking textile called Drirelease. “We went to China where the yarn is knitted,” he says.

Snikwah is riding high from a recent appearance at the Surf Expo in Orlando, where it spent $30,000 on an elaborate booth and models. “We got 80 new dealers,” Smith says.

At the expo, Snikwah also announced it had signed up-and-coming professional surfer Jazmine Dean to develop her own clothing line. It introduced a new Snikwah Hydro line, rash-guard shirts designed for use in the water by surfers, divers and swimmers.

“The challenge is to get attention,” says Smith, who, with an unnamed investor, has invested “several million” dollars in the venture. “We're adequately capitalized,” he says.

Snikwah has humble roots. Smith acquired the patented shirt company from North Fort Myers hairdresser Michell Hawkins (Snikwah is her last name spelled backwards). “We fell in love with the product,” says Smith.

Smith is also managing director of AmDev International, a management consulting firm with high-profile offices on Fifth Avenue in Naples. “We take an idea from the cocktail napkin to the cash register,” Smith says. “We have five projects in the pipeline.”

Smith has no plans to open Snikwah retail outlets. For now, the company sells shirts on its website, Snikwah.com, on Amazon.com and in specialty shops and resorts (prices range from $59 to $89). Half of sales now are to customers like Stuart Cove's shark-diving resort in the Bahamas that order shirts with custom designs and logos.

“We didn't start with a cheaper fabric,” says Smith, showing off a newly designed shirt with pink cammo. “It costs me five times more than polyester.”

Smith traced a complicated manufacturing path to create the shirt. Various parts come from 20 different sources, from the tag to the box in which each shirt is packaged. “In today's world, everyone is specialized,” Smith says.

Although the shirts have a patented convertible neck and the Drirelease material is more effective than polyester at blocking out the sun and wicking moisture, Smith says the way to stay ahead of copycats is by delivering top-quality shirts quickly. “Speed to market is the new intellectual property,” he says. “It's measured in the fashion industry in weeks.”

Smith says Snikwah is working on other products, including hats and short-sleeved shirts. “We have plans for international expansion,” he says.

Snikwah's shirts can be used for more than just water sports. Its moisture-wicking properties keep snow-sport enthusiasts warm and lawn workers cool. “We support whatever activity you're doing outside,” Smith says.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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