It was only last year that the Colorado Trading and Clothing Company executive leadership team decided to re-brand, make executive transitions and move forward with new and exciting offerings. The company just celebrated 20 years of business in Colorado. The company is ready to take off and see what the next 20 years have in store. The three women driving into the future would be Tina Schmitt, the co-founder and now CEO, Carolyn Hadden, the chief of staff and CFO and Gina Akins, the VP of Operations. A big part of their plan for the future will be including further promotion of their lifestyle and active brand for women — Soybu. “Going forward, we’re going to focus on being a company for women, now led by women,” Schmitt said in their official press release.
“Empowered women, empower women” is their goal and exactly what these three ladies are doing. They are here to make sure that every woman feels comfortable and confident.
303 Magazine: The company recently celebrated 20 years, can you take us back to the start and tell us how you got started?
Tina Schmitt: My husband and I started the company 20 years ago and it began as Colorado Clothing in the beginning and we sold to the ad specialty industry a lot.
Gina Akins: Colorado Clothing — to elaborate — started more as outerwear, so fleece jackets and pullovers. Very basic, but those pieces still exist and we still sell into that market. Just as we grew and as we got older we expanded and Soybu started in about 2009, 2012.
303: What was the process of expanding and evolving like for the company?
Carolyn Hadden: A lot of it was because of the fabrication. Jeff used to love to work with the factories and come up with new fabric blends. So, when we first started we were classic fleece and Berber, and we manufactured here in the U.S. and within a couple of years just because of price point competition they pushed us over to China, and Asia in general. That’s when he met our sourcing partner and agent, and she started working with different mills. It just evolved on its own, because Jeff loved mixing different types of fabric and blends.
TS: We pioneered the whole chenille fabrication. We did that with blankets and robes — and we still have pieces from it — but that was a big part of our growth.
GA: They were for a long time because we did that and just some key pieces like a hooded sweatshirt with a pouch pocket, we did a zipped cardigan and we did a v-neck. We then expanded to resort and logo wear and out of that we developed Soybu because again we kept mixing with the fabrics to get something different. We came out with a robe and a blanket, which was the first iteration of what Soybu was in the very beginning. Then it developed more into activewear and active lifestyle brand that it is today.
CH: That’s what Jeff saw. He kept seeing that women were starting to wear the leggings a little bit more and that they were comfortable and even confident in them. He said, “Hey, I think this business segment could grow, let’s take this Soybu and make it into an active brand.” That is when Soybu was relaunching and we went national in 2012 with a retailer.
303: Why is Colorado the perfect place for your brand’s home?
CH: Jeff was a native of Colorado, and it was really important to him. So, I think that’s one of the reasons why it was called Colorado Trading & Clothing.
TS: He always said that everything we do is inspired by the outdoors and nature. It’s kind of funny how that still holds true — this active, healthy lifestyle.
GA: Also, you can’t be in a more beautiful area. You can look out our windows and you can’t help but be inspired by what you see.
303: When creating clothing, who are you designing for?
TS: Colorado Clothing is primarily men’s and unisex and Soybu is for women.
CH: Tina did a segment back in 2014, and she very eloquently sums up what Soybu is and where their inspiration came from.
In the segment, Tina Schmitt says that she and her husband started in a partnership with each other and then it grew into a partnership with all women. The inspiration behind Soybu was the idea that every woman has beauty inside and out. Soybu wants to promote the sense that it is not about being skinny it is about feeling strong and confident.
303: Why is it essential that every woman feels comfortable and confident?
GA: We are product people, we really believe in the quality and people might now fit quality with comfort, but I do. We work really long days in our life. You might be doing stuff around the house, and then you come to the office, you go workout and then you go do things with friends. You just want to be in something where you feel good and are comfortable.
CH: Whatever you are wearing if you are wearing something uncomfortable, that is going to impact how you feel. If you are comfortable, your confidence is going to shine through. That is important for all people, but especially for women.
303: Recently there have been a lot of female leaders rising into positions of power, who inspires you and why?
CH: For me, there isn’t a key figure, I have been lucky enough to have certain people in my life who have been women and have successful and have been great role models and mentors for me. I have been lucky to be surrounded by women who have been supportive in my life.
GA: I draw more from the women that are around me and I know their story. There is a lot of strength and people who have come through adversity — and how they have handled it — has had a big impact on me. It’s those personal relationships.
TS: Just to add to that, just internally here in our office I am inspired by the women here in our office every day. Everyone has their different skill set and strength and weaknesses but we talk about always having each other’s back and we lift each other up instead of tearing each other down. Which, unfortunately, women do on a daily basis but just the sense of team and empowering and encouraging each other and that is really important to us here.
303: In your own words, what is women empowerment?
CH: Confidence and being in a collaborative environment where you are supported.
GA: Recognizing people’s strength and weaknesses and being able to help them grow in their strength and help them gain more confidence so that the weaknesses do not have as big as an impact. We have a lot of women that work in this office and everyone has a different situation, life story. I think it is really exciting to have an impact on what they are doing and to help them grow in their positions and help them become better people.
CH: You have to embrace your weaknesses as well because you have to know you are not going to excel and have someone step up and help you and get to the end result better.
TS: Having an open mind, because everyone has a different voice and different opinion and a different way of looking at things. Being open-minded and being able to share.
303: What are some goals you have for the company this year?
GA: We are in the process of showing our fall and holiday line. We have new team members that we are really excited about — including a designer — so we have some new designs. That is really exciting to be sharing with our costumes and the company. Also, the partnerships we have from the business standpoint — the people we are looking at for fabrics and different performance aspects — that we are looking to weave into the garments we are making. Those are some things we have planned and are excited for this year.
CH: The other big one is our marketing relationship. We have always been product people, we have never spent money on marketing ever in our 20 years. Our only marketing was through co-op advertising money that we would give to costumers. So for us to say, “Hey, we need to focus on us and tell our story in a better way.” That has been a big incentive for 2019.
TS: We are also exploring our private label opportunities. We are applying for women-owned status. So in 60 to 90 days we are hoping to be a women-owned business with a lot of opportunities — federally and with different contracts in the ad specialty business — so we are very excited about that. We don’t even know where that can lead.
Soybu is more than just an active lifestyle brand, it is a brand that is encouraging women to feel the power within and to believe in themselves. These ladies are taking this brand to new heights and should be watched this year. To keep up to date with what is to come for Schmitt, Hadden and Akins make sure to follow the social media for Soybu and Colorado Clothing & Trading.
All photography by Heather Fairchild