Designer and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Shafer moved his family from Los Angeles to Vancouver 18 months ago because he wanted his kids to grow up in a “more normal place.” He wasn’t sure, however, he would move Agave’s corporate headquarters here as well, but said he soon realized the Vancouver area is an “absolutely stellar place to operate.”
Shafer was drawn to the area’s workforce, which boasts a plethora of “talented, creative, smart and well-balanced workers,” and the proximity to Nike, Adidas and Columbia Sportswear ensures Shafer has access to a pool of technical people with experience in the apparel industry, he said.
Also, Shafer said, the ports of Vancouver and Portland are “easy to get in and out of,” making shipping products easier than in Los Angeles. Efficient shipping is important to Agave because it not only imports cloth, but exports a large quantity of product to Asia, Europe and Canada.
A distribution center and warehouse in Clark County means “we’re one week closer to market,” Shafer said.
The company’s new headquarters and distribution center will cost just less than $3 million, financed by Regents Bank and the Small Business Administration. Shafer expects the center to be up and running by Nov. 1.
Office space will take up 6,000 square feet of the new building, leaving 16,000 square feet for warehouse space.
Now, Agave employs five people in the Vancouver office and will be hiring 10 to 15 more to staff the new center.
The company grossed $10 million in 2007.
Previously, Agave outsourced its warehousing and distribution, but Shafer decided to bring that function in-house because “inventory is a big asset,” he said. “I want it closer to home to lower my costs and have more control.”
Growing market share
Agave jeans, which run $185 to $225 per pair, are targeted toward 25- to 45-year-olds. They’re made from premium denim from Japan, Italy and the United States to make a product that “bridges the gap between the hippest denim shops and the finest men’s boutiques,” Shafer said.
The company’s first year, 2002, it produced only menswear and brought in $250,000 in revenue. Two years ago, Agave branched out into manufacturing jeans and knit tops for women.
Now, women’s wear makes up about 10 percent of sales, but Shafer expects this portion of his business to outstrip the menswear, perhaps doubling or tripling the current menswear income in the next few years.
Locally, this prediction is borne out by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Agave products by customers at Camas-based boutique Lily Atelier, said Owner Dawn Stanchfield.
Stanchfield restocks its Agave supply every two to three weeks – unusual for the fine clothing and accessories shop.
“Customers absolutely love the fit,” she said. “The texture and finish are unlike anything else we carry.”
Stanchfield herself owns four pair of the jeans, and said every shop employee also has purchased a pair.
The shop began carrying Agave products about a year ago, after Stanchfield happened to meet Shafer’s wife. The store immediately blew through the first size runs and had to reorder immediately.
Lily Atelier recently began carrying Agave jeans for men on a by-request basis, and sold two pair the first weekend they were available.
Stanchfield said she appreciates the local connection of Agave, and that they are manufactured exclusively in the U.S., which is unusual in the apparel industry.
But of primary importance, she said, is the quality of the product.
It’s this focus on quality that Shafer hopes to make the backbone of an increased effort to further develop the Agave brand, expanding distribution to Asian and European markets.
“That’s one good thing about the devaluing of the dollar,” Shafer said. “We have a great product that’s manufactured in the USA – and it appears inexpensive to foreign markets.”
Along with expanding the Agave line, Shafer plans to focus on developing other apparel companies under Agave’s parent company, Surf Cowboy Inc. One product currently in development is Red Scorpion Jeans, a trendier, “hard-edged” product aimed at 15- to 30-year-olds.
And he has hooked up with upstart Tesla Motors, a California-based electric car company whose two-seat roadster runs on laptop batteries.
The first models came off the assembly line in March. These $98,000 speedsters (0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds, with 220 miles per charge, according to the company) appeal to much the same audience as Agave products – a fact that Shafer intends to make the most of.
Employees at the first Tesla Motor showroom in Santa Monica will all be outfitted in Agave jeans, and the apparel may be sold along with the cars on the showroom floor.