About The Berry Fit Company
The Berry Fit Company
Our Show-and-Sew Life
I began sewing as a young child. Long before my mother allowed me to take advantage of the electric components on our sewing machine, she would thread it, and I was permitted to turn the wheel to create doll clothing or anything else I could imagine. It did not matter to me if I was sewing something for myself or for someone else: for me, it has always been about working with the fabric and the fit.
My childhood affinity for sewing stayed with me into adulthood. I opened a small seamstress business from my home, preferring to create tailored business attire to wedding and party fashions. But it was my daughter Polly who altered my business direction somewhat, due to her love of horses. She grew up in a rodeo town with a cowboy father, so it was only natural that she developed a desire to ride and show horses. And we realized early on that Polly was extremely talented; she started out competing in 4-H and open shows in speed events, and we eventually purchased her a nice show quarter horse. Over the ensuing years, Polly progressed from those small shows to national-level events.
During the time Polly was involved in riding, she and I could not help but notice that the available show clothing was poorly made and very expensive. Perhaps it was divine intervention, but during church, Polly sketched designs for six blouses on the backs of offering envelopes. We selected two and made them for her. When her friends saw the designs, they, too, wanted to purchase blouses. With that, a business was born!
At this point, my entrepreneurial spirit was in full swing. Having only done seamstress work from my home, I didn't have a business plan or a particular vision, but I was certainly open to opportunities and possibilities. I also knew, even in 1987, that technology had to play a role in this venture, so before the first garment was sold, I set out to register the name I had in mind for the company. I knew that I wanted to call my enterprise "The Fit Company." That way, I would not be limited to creating just show clothes. Imagine my surprise when the name of my company was already taken! I finally selected "Berry Fit Company" (Berry from my name and "fit" for the custom end of the business). My company would custom create and sell one-of-a-kind, handmade couture equestrian and Western wear, to include all the sequins, rhinestones, crystals and such that was so prevalent in this universal line of clothing.
While I was able to think creatively from a business perspective, it was Polly who continued to provide the designs for the riding attire. Though she was a natural horsewoman, she was also born with an artistic mind and loved to doodle and play with color. When she was only fourteen years old, I paid Polly $10 per design, and when she needed money, she was prolific! But it was more than just the desire to have a few dollars in her pocket that inspired her designs; even now, in her mid thirties, Polly loves the uniqueness of the clothes and enjoys having the freedom to design and outfit each individual.
A Berry Fit garment is a true labor of love.
There is no "standard" job, as each step in the process is done by hand with specific measurements. Every customer has certain measurements and selects a different design in an unusual color combination, and it can take more than forty hours to create one garment. But the finished product is more important than the time it takes to produce it; by concentrating on neatness and accurateness, our garments appear as though the same person made each one.
While Berry Fit Company may be considered an overnight success; it really has been years in the making. Throughout the late eighties and nineties, the company and our customer list continued to grow. Initially, I trained others to assist in the sewing of our custom creations, and many worked out of their homes. Today, we employ forty-five people and have our own facility in the middle of New Philadelphia, Ohio, a lovely historic town close to larger cities such as Cleveland and Columbus. Despite our size, we operate like a large family. We work hard but we also have a lot of fun together, too!
As an entrepreneur, I am not afraid to take a risk and I seldom look back. Somehow, I manage to see the good even when others may see the negative. I always say that there is not any mistake anyone can possibly make that I have not done myself, so it is best to simply learn from those trials. I have always believed in endless possibilities, a good trait to possess when leading any company. If something doesn't work, then there are many more ways to try!
Today, I own the company, conduct training meetings, and draft, finish, and do alterations on clothing. My daughter, Polly Vandall, is now a mom and is the power behind the creative side of the business, with her designs winning many national clothing awards. But Polly is also the more cautious, conservative one of our business and is detail oriented. She is excellent with customers because she understands their industry needs. As an accomplished rider, Polly has earned their respect; she knows as many horses' names and who owns them as she does customers' names and where they live!
Polly and I are so blessed to work alongside each other every day. We each respect the other and our personalities really work well together. It has been so wonderful to see my daughter expand her gifts into a creative arena of life. She is just so much fun to be around! And we have both learned many of life's lessons - the very best part of working with my daughter is not having to miss much of her life at all. For me, working with Polly is like working with my best friend. . .I wouldn't have it any other way!
As told to Terri Duncan for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs