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    The Economy: Partners launch high-end line

    By Jackie R. Broach
    Coastal Observer

    When Blayne Henderson and Leah Stoudenmire found themselves out of work last year, it seemed like misfortune.

    Now, it seems more like serendipity, as it led them into a new business venture.

    They recently created Coast, a premium apparel brand that has set up its distribution, sales and marketing offices in Pawleys Island and expects to have 12 employees in the next three years.

    In 2007, Henderson sold a successful industrial container business and went to work as president of a private equity group. But he found he missed being his own boss, so he and the company parted ways in May 2008, and he moved to Litchfield.

    A few months later, Stoudenmire, a friend of Henderson’s wife, found herself a victim of the housing market crash. She’d worked in marketing for a leading luxury real estate company. When the company started to go under, she was laid off.

    Henderson and Stoudenmire were each looking for new opportunities. Henderson had the money. Stoudenmire had the idea.

    They got to talking, and the result was what they believe is a winning partnership. Henderson handles the “business end of things,” and Stoudenmire takes care of marketing and promotion.

    Coast launched its first product, the Winyah polo shirt, this month.

    It’s off to a good start.

    “It’s been incredible,” Henderson said. “The stores in Charleston and Sumter are both telling us they’re selling a lot of them.”

    And other retailers have been very receptive, he added.

    Coast wants to be considered an exclusive Lowcountry brand, so Henderson and Stoudenmire are being selective about the stores that carry their product.

    “We want to visit each one of them before we agree to sell our brand there,” Henderson said. “We don’t want it sold in a store we’ve never been to, because we want to be sure their store represents our brand well. A lot of companies tend to sell wherever they can take an order from and a lot of times that damages the integrity of the brand.”

    Winyah polos are in stores in North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi, but the company is concentrating efforts in South Carolina.

    Henderson said he and Stoudenmire eventually want Coast to go nationwide, but “we want to build our roots here.”

    Locally, the Winyah polo can be purchased at The Men’s Store at Oak Lea and Blue Mer at Market Common. Women’s shirts are $75; men’s are $79.50.

    Winyah polos aren’t like other shirts, Stoudenmire said. They are set apart by the quality of everything from the Peruvian pima cotton used to the manufacturing process.

    “We’re making sure our product is made right and is the best that can be made,” she said.

    The high quality of cotton means the shirts are durable, resistant to pilling, and have a softer feel. They’re made with 3 percent Lycra, which means a better fit and helps keep the shape.

    Stoudenmire said the shirt was designed after market research identified a growing consumer need for comfort, performance, fit and style. The polos feature a shorter placket, so none of the buttons need to be done up, and a wider circumference around the arm of the men’s shirt so the bands don’t cling or bunch at the biceps.

    The women’s shirts were designed to “fit every body type, but bring some feminine-ness back into a polo,” Stoudenmire said. “Polos have gotten to where they have too much of a box fit and a golf sleeve, which is really not feminine, but with this you can wear a belt with it or put a cami on with it. And it transcends generations. It’s something that’s good for anybody, whether they’re 18 or 63 ... a college student or a soccer mom.”

    The shirts come in 12 colors for men and seven for women and feature a blue crab embroidered on the breast. It seemed an appropriate logo for a company named Coast, Stoudenmire said.

    The name reflects the company’s base of operations, she explained. Pawleys Island “exudes exclusivity” and a feeling of “high-end luxury,” she said, which is what she and Henderson want their brand to do.

    Coast has plans to make Winyah polos available in more colors this fall and to introduce new garments.

    Details are in the works, but button-up oxford shirts will likely be one of the new products.

    “The doors are open and that’s what’s so fun about this,” Stoudenmire said. “There’s a whole horizon out there and a lot of opportunities for us.”

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