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College Student Turns Profit with Class Project

December 14, 1995

DAVIS, Calif. (AP) _ Kristy Roach took a college class outside her major two years ago because the professor had a great reputation.

Now, at age 21, she’s running a growing women’s snowboard clothing firm, an outgrowth of her class project and a supportive circle of family and friends.

``I had never thought of owning a business,″ she said in her new Kurvz Exremewear office, surrounded by a computer, cutting board, sewing machine and samples. ``I looked at an entrepreneur as somewhat of an individual who sat in someone’s garage tinkering away.″

Two years ago, she was a University of California-Davis design major who took an agricultural economics marketing class because the professor, Bay Butler, had a reputation as a great teacher.

The class project was to create a marketing plan for a new business. She decided to research women’s snowboard clothing because she had been snowboarding since junior high school and had trouble finding clothing to fit in the male-dominated market.

In her 30-page plan, Roach found that women make up 29 percent of the snowboarders, a figure that is growing; that more than half of women snowboarders spend $300 to $1,000 annually on new gear; and that the largest female market is in the 17-to-21-year-old range. Yet most clothing was designed for males in blacks and browns.

Butler handed back her assignment and told her, ``So do it now or don’t do it at all,″ she recalls.

She was shocked, but started thinking.

``I was 19. I was afraid. I had no business background. I didn’t have the money. I was worried about being 19,″ she said. ``Starting a business is hard for anyone. Actually, being 19 helped me _ I didn’t have a family, a mortgage, some of those concerns.″

What she did have was a close-knit group of relatives and friends in Eureka, where she grew up. She took her plan and made her first business presentation over Christmas break.

She also presented family members with Kurvz sweatshirts. She had made up the name as part of her project as ``something that was feminine and not girly and something both men and women like about women.″

Jaws dropped, she said, but her relatives and friends provided her with enough financial and emotional support to get through her first year.

She immediately hit a huge deadline. She was starting in January 1994, but had to have samples for the Ski Industry Association trade show in Las Vegas in March, a show that would determine the market for the following winter season.

``Those were the two hardest months,″ she said. She worked 90 hours a week to set up her company, design 12 garments for a catalog and sew two samples for the show.

Her clothes were well-received, so she sewed up the other 10 samples, loaded them in her car and spent 35 days driving all over the western United States, visiting snowboard shops and professional women snowboarders.

Orders started coming in and she began production out of her Davis home, contracting out the manufacturing to San Francisco Bay area firms. Her mother, Carol Roach, a teacher and ``a better seamstress than I,″ moved to Davis to help with the startup. Her father, Mike, sits on her company’s board.

First-year sales totaled $100,000. Her reception at the March 1995 Ski Industry Association trade show was even warmer. Her firm won several awards for startup businesses and design. Sales this season are expected to hit $500,000, she says.

Last May, she moved her growing firm into a separate office and now has nine employees, about half of them UCD students. She hopes to have 12 employees by February.

Kurvz clothing is in about 60 U.S. snowboard stores and also is in Japan and Canada.

Her line includes parkas, coats, pullovers, pants, bibs, coveralls, fleece tops and vests, mittens and hats. She also sells women’s snowboard boots. The colors are subdued blues, greens, and dark reds.

``The days of looking like our brothers are over,″ proclaims the Kurvz brochure. Special women-oriented featured include a rear bathroom zipper, hood cinches to hold back hair, suspenders that don’t cross the chest and adjustable leg lengths.

Running a fast-growing firm has been harder than anticipated.

``Anybody who hasn’t done business thinks explosive growth is a fun thing. It’s not. The real fear is growing as fast as we’re growing,″ she said.

``I thought I’d get to snowboard and build clothes. That’s not my job anymore. I’m running the company.″

She doesn’t know where Kurvz will be in five years in the rapidly growing snowboard market. She could sell her company, take it public or merge. ``We’re looking at every opportunity.″

``If we could stay the nice Davis-based small company, we would. But that definitely is not realistic. It’s a competitive market,″ she said.

One casualty of her success has been college. She’s still attending UCD ``on and off″ and is still a design major, although she’s taking more economics and business courses.

``I will be at UC-Davis for several more years,″ she says.

End Adv For Weekend Editions Dec. 16-17