Entrepreneur grows side sewing business into full-time retail operation
Sandi Gunderson saw a need, and she knew she had the skills to fill it.
About eight years ago, Gunderson’s daughter couldn’t find a leotard that fit just right for her gymnastics class. Using skills developed sewing swimsuits at Vancouver’s former Jantzen apparel manufacturer, Gunderson made a custom leotard for her daughter. Soon, Gunderson was making leotards for her daughter’s friends, and, eventually, she was supplying schools and gymnastic teams with custom apparel and selling her line, called Prizm, in area gyms.
Finally, following more than a year of work, Gunderson opened The Competitive Edge, a retail location offering her Prizm line and a full complement of other dance and gymnastic apparel and accessories.
“It’s someplace (customers) can get everything they need,” she said.
The Competitive Edge opened in the Orchards Center complex on Fourth Plain Boulevard in September. Gunderson considered continuing to just manufacture her line, which, in addition to leotards, includes shorts, jazz pants, camisole tops, unitards and swimsuits, but she realized a retail location had a greater income potential. Gunderson makes mostly custom pieces, but also sells some set sizes. She makes up to 30 pieces each week. Working closely with the store’s customers also appealed to her.
The Washington State University Small Business Development Center helped Gunderson in many aspects of the entrepreneurial process, from picking a name to choosing a location. She settled on the 1,000-square-foot Orchards space because it was close to her home and some area dance and gymnastics studios.
The Competitive Edge is a first of its kind for Clark County, said Gunderson. The nearest comparable location is in Portland’s Lloyd Center, she said.
Securing financing was where Gunderson struggled most in setting up her shop.
“The banks were impossible,” she said.
Gunderson said she did not have the collateral lenders required to obtain a loan. But with the help of Mercy Corps, she was able to get the funding she needed.
The response from customers has been positive, she said. Gunderson has marketed the store with area gyms, studios and schools to build her customer base. She expects to continue to add to her inventory. Gunderson brought on her sister as her first employee. And Gunderson expects her daughter, whose involvement in gymnastics provided the seed for the business, to help out as the shop gets busier.
The Competitive Edge
10411 N.E. Fourth Plain Boulevard,
Orchards Center, Suite 104
Owner Sandi Gunderson
Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday