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Start Your Business Success Stories

How Failure Led to an Innovative Apparel Brand

Keeon Rudder of Von Elijah Credit: Von Elijah

Fitness has always been a huge part of my life. I was born in the Caribbean, but I grew up in Houston. In Grenada, we played cricket and soccer and explored the island. From elementary through high school, my friends and I played pickup basketball and football, ran track, and eventually joined organized team sports.

In 2009, one year after I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin, I founded Von Elijah to house my first invention, the world's first reversible rain umbrella that can open and close on both sides. My company's name is actually my name; Von is a family nickname that my mom tried to give me at birth in the hospital but the nurse forgot to put Von on my birth certificate, and Elijah is my middle name. My company's values align with my innovation, practicality, and desire to lend a helping hand and motivate others to learn how to love themselves.

My friends began asking me to post my gym workouts on Facebook; so, in spring 2015, we invested around $5,000 to build a gamified website to share my workout videos with them. However, I wanted to do more; I persuaded a few of my doctor and dietitian friends to manage the portal of the website that gave nutrition and customized meal plan advice to our customers.

After we launched VE Fit, only 12 people paid the monthly subscription fee of $9.99. We then lowered the price to $4.99 and got just three more people. Not long after, I made the website free, thinking it would help us gain more subscribers; but instead, we lost two.

My frustration grew as panic set in. Anger flushed my face and tears trickled down my cheeks. This couldn't be happening. We had invested our time, resources and money, but nothing we tried seemed to work. I was at a loss. How did I fail so miserably? What did I do wrong? Why weren't more people signing up?

Around that time, I observed, researched and noted concerns about the apparel and manufacturing industry. There were gaps in the market, ranging from pocket-less workout pants to plus-sized clothing, that I felt I could fill.

I didn't want anyone to feel left out and unappreciated; so, when I decided that Von Elijah would sell apparel, I made certain it would be of all sizes, colors and patterns, and for all body types.

I give our customers the option to design our apparel from scratch to put their own face, pet's picture, company logo, children's faces, etc. directly onto the clothes. I didn't want them to look identical, so I configured my website to allow them to upload almost any colors or images onto the waistband, pockets, and cuffs in order to differentiate themselves from anyone else wearing that same Von Elijah design. I believe that everyone should be treated with respect and given an opportunity to express their uniqueness through what they wear.

I am most thankful for God's help to overcome the hurdles presented thus far, and I can't wait to see the problems Von Elijah solves in the future.

About the author: Keeon Rudder is the founder of Von Elijah, a fitness apparel brand. A fashion designer with an eye for color coordination, Keeon Rudder has published five books, and has garnered multiple patents for his innovatively chic reversible Sun-Brellas that can open and close on both sides.