But making University Girls Apparel, a WVU-themed clothing line, grow from idea to success also took skills she didn’t learn in school.
“She sees opportunities,” Walls said, “and, more importantly, she seizes them and does something with them.”
Sanghavi displayed this skill recently when she stepped in on short notice to talk about her business and her collegiate experience in front of WVU’s Board of Governors at a meeting in Morgantown. Entering her second year in the fashion industry, the Charleston native had emailed Walls to thank her and share her reflections on the Business Plan Competition. Sanghavi had recently returned to the U.S. from Germany, where she had finished an internship with international athletic shoes and sportswear company Puma.
Walls, who was searching for a student presenter after the original one dropped out, quickly secured Sanghavi’s services, and though she had only a few days to prepare, Sanghavi was a hit. The short notice was not as big a challenge as the short time allotted her, she said.
“I only had two or three minutes to present,” Sanghavi said, “and when I talk about my business, I get passionate and tend to talk and talk and talk.”
When it comes to Sanghavi there’s much to talk about.
From dream to reality
Sanghavi said she’d always dreamed of starting her own business but her experience in the 2008 Business Plan Competition helped her ideas evolve into more tangible ideas. She and her partner, Zach Armentrout, proposed a business focused on a portable throw bag used to rescue whitewater rafters. The idea for the product was Armentrout’s but he counted on Sanghavi, a finance major, to supply business advice. A WVU cheerleader, Sanghavi also knew something about presenting before an audience. The team advanced to the finals but didn’t win. But like many in the competition, the experience of the contest far outweighed the $10,000 grand prize.
“Sometimes it was really hard and very challenging,” she said. “But it was a competition and I’ve always been kind of competitive. It would have been great to win but I learned everything on how to put together a business just from being in the competition.”
After graduation, Sanghavi took the summer to think about starting a business. Her idea was to start a line of clothing line better suited for younger, more fashion-conscious WVUfans.
“When I was at WVU, I struggled to find cute WVU stuff to wear, clothes that were fashionable and more form-fitting than a baggy t-shirt or sweatshirt,” she said. “I looked through my closet and thought about what I liked to wear – why did I like it? Because the fabric was soft? The way it fit? Was the design timeless? And I also looked into other products on the market and in magazines. What is the trend? What is in fashion? It just developed that way.”
Her plan was to get a full-time job and sell her clothing line on the side but it wasn’t long after she accepted a job at a Pittsburgh bank that she realized that fashion was her true calling. She quit the bank and applied for a business license from the state of West Virginia and a license from Collegiate Licensing Co., which manages the WVU trademark and logos. The latter license required a marketing and business plan and quality samples of the product. Meanwhile, she enrolled in the Parsons School of Design in New York City to gain more knowledge about the clothing business.
Living in New York fulfilled another of her dreams and reinforced her love of the business world.
“I wanted to live in the city because the school was in the city and I wanted to live close by. I wanted the whole New York experience,” she said. “It was pretty overwhelming – alarms going off 24 hours a day, sirens, no silence, smelly – but the experience gave me the impression that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Her networking skills gave her some leads on manufacturers who could produce her clothing line, and, after a few false starts, she settled on an Indian company. She started out buying blank goods, later adding embroidered logos and patches but she soon learned that producing her own clothes was less expensive. There was one more surprise in her early business career – but this turned out to be a good one.
Sanghavi noticed the quick rise in popularity of Silly Bandz and immediately went to work on her own line, called WVU FanWear Bandz, to capitalize on the trend. Sanghavi designed her bands to include shapes of the Mountaineer mascot, the Flying WV logo, a shape of West Virginia and more iconic imagery connected with the state’s flagship institution. The product proved to be a runaway hit.
“This was the biggest break I’ve had with the company,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about Silly Bandz, I only wanted to do clothing. But I ordered 10,000 and had sold 1,000 before they even came in. In one week, I had sold 4,000 and in two months, I had sold 7,000. It was like I had invented bread.”
Year 2 and Beyond
Fresh off her Puma experience, Sanghavi has learned more about the global aspects of business, such as tailoring products and marketing efforts for specific countries and populations. Her second clothing line will be out in fall and she’s meeting with retailers in Morgantown next month to get her clothes in more stores. Her second line will be available through her website (ugapparel.com) and also in Hallmark stores in Charleston, at Kaposy’s in Petersburg and at Universi-Tees in Morgantown. Her WVU FanWear Bandz are available at most stores in West Virginia that sell WVU merchandise.
Although she has enjoyed launching her business, Sanghavi hopes to someday have the resources to expand enough to acquire warehouse space for her merchandise and to hire someone to create the designs while she focuses on marketing, finance and other aspects of the business. If she can gain a foothold in West Virginia, she wants to produce clothing for the top 25 universities in the country.
“It’s very hard being a success with clothes because of the big competitors that are out there,” she said. “It’s hard in the sense that I’m just one person competing with the big guys but there’s also a positive side to it. I can and meet with everybody I sell to and I can get my clothes to smaller independent retailers. The biggest thing is convincing stores to buy from me instead of more recognizable national brands – it’s a brand loyalty thing. But my product is of the same quality if not better.”
Walls is a firm believer in the products – and Sanghavi.
“I think she has really identified a niche market that’s under-served,” Walls said. “She’s developed her business the right way and I think it’s going to work for her.”