By Marin Decker, Deseret Morning News
SPRINGVILLE — They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of one American Fork woman's invention, necessity has brought about a mother lode of attention.
A line of shirts Chelsea Rippy designed to make her life easier has now caught the attention of women scattered across the nation, mostly due to the unusual cut: ultra-modest.
"The general response has been, 'Finally, I can wear what I want to wear and still feel really comfortable and modest,' " said Rippy, who founded American Fork-based Shade Clothing. "People are just so excited to have something cover their body whether or not they're standing or bending over."
Rippy, a Brigham Young University graduate with a degree in health education, came up with the idea for the company after one of many unsuccessful attempts to find modest, fashionable clothing at local stores.
"I just came home one day from a really frustrating shopping experience and was wishing somebody would make a shirt that would do this, this and this," she said. "And then I said, 'Oh my goodness, I'm going to do it.' "
The result of Rippy's brainstorming was three different extra-long, higher-necked, stretchy shirts designed to be worn underneath other clothing. One is a spaghetti-strapped tank top, one a cap-sleeved shirt and the third a long-sleeved shirt. Though Rippy had no experience in fashion design or merchandising, she and business partner Char Garn started selling the shirts last September and have been hard-pressed to keep up with demand.
"We're continually growing," Rippy said. "We grow about 30 percent each month."
Not surprisingly, a good chunk of that growing clientele includes members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in and outside of Utah. But Shade's products have also found a market outside the Mormon niche.
"We get non-Mormons; they still want to be modest," said Shade sales representative Jamie Brown.
"It's designed to cover garments (worn by LDS women), but people just wear them plain, just as shirts."
Rippy said she had LDS women in mind when she designed the shirts and was surprised at first to discover their broader appeal.
"It definitely surprised me," she said. "But now that I wear the shirts on a daily basis, I can kind of see why anybody would feel more comfortable just to have a few more inches added to whatever they're wearing. People like the shirts regardless of their religion."
Rippy theorizes that versatility is the main selling point for the shirts.
"They're modest shirts that allow you to wear everything else," she said. "Personally, I am excited about it because when I go shopping, I don't even look twice at the length, I don't have to look if it's see-through or not, or if it's wide-shouldered. I can wear everything that's in the stores right now with my shirt. Shopping is a whole new deal."
But the natural networking disposition of Shade's target market, LDS women, has also done much to drive the company's success. Shade sells the majority of its products at Tupperware-like parties, hosted by enthusiastic customers for their family and friends.
"I wasn't going to go the party approach, because I wanted to establish myself as a hip, modest clothing line," Rippy said. "But literally like a week into selling the shirts, I had ladies begging me to throw parties."
The approach Rippy initially shied away from has become Shade's "bread and butter."
"Next thing you know, we do about 18 parties a week, and that's just because we don't have enough inventory to accommodate more," she said. "Parties are a good chunk right now, I'd have to say the majority of, our sales. So that's been a huge thing for us; ladies telling their friends has been really helpful."
According to Rippy, each party of 30 to 50 women results in an average of 150 to 450 shirts sold.
"People never walk away with just one; they usually buy three," said Brown. "Some people will throw down $300, $400, if they have a lot of teenage girls.
Though most of the parties are hosted in Utah, women in Arizona, Washington, Nevada and California have held them as well.
"We get people from out of state constantly asking to be sales reps in their state," Rippy said. "We hope to eventually have 40 parties a week going all at the same time. It's just been a great way to get the word out fast."
Shade's products are also available on the Internet — http://www.shadeclothing.com/— and have been sold at local JMR clothing stores since February.
Gateway Mall JMR sales associate Amy Maddux said the shirts sell out quickly at her store. "The first time that we got them in, I think we sold out within, like, two or three hours," she said. "The cap-sleeve shirt sells amazingly well."
Fashion Place JMR assistant manager Brian Pearce said the shirts appeal to customers because they're fashionable. "The long shirts are in right now, everyone's loving the long, and all these shirts are long," he said. "I see pregnant women come in, and they love the stretch, and for women that are LDS and wear garments, it covers that. It's modest but yet modern."
Rippy said she is currently working to get the shirts into other stores, but the main roadblock has been inventory.
"We just barely started doing that, but we've decided to put a lot more focus on it," she said. "So you can expect to see them in a handful of stores in the next month or two." Rippy expects Internet sales to pick up in the near future as well.
"We're not going to market them on the Internet necessarily as modest shirts, just as long shirts that cover your tummy," she said. "So that's going to appeal to anyone who's just had a baby, anybody who has a job and wants to stay really professional and classy, so we just feel like the sky's the limit when it comes to selling them on the Internet."
As for her own storefront, Rippy said she currently lacks the capital, but is anxious to cater to customer needs.
"Obviously, we'd love to be able to provide as many options as we can when it comes to hip, modest clothing, so if that is in the future, I'd be really excited about that," she said. "We definitely see that as being a possibility, but you know, we just kind of take it one day at a time. It's growing so quickly, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves."
Part of the reason the shirts sell so well, according to Rippy, is that women of all ages and walks of life want to wear them.
"The cool thing about our product is we have 12-year-olds that love them and 65-year-old ladies that love them," she said. "It really appeals to every different age group."
Rippy said even if the shirts hadn't sold so well, she would have designed them just for personal use.
"I'm happy that everyone loves my product, but I do it because I'm excited about the shirts and I love to wear them myself," she said. "I'm not a clothing designer, so I didn't have big plans to provide a million different styles of clothes, but I just know that there are a few basic items that you needed in your wardrobe to make everything else possible. That was kind of my vision from the beginning, and it's really happening."