Founded: 1996

Privately owned

Employees: 32

Youth movement: Joe Silva’s apparel upstart is putting a fresh face on national sportswear and Denver’s thread sector back on course

After taking a “golden parachute” from a career in the landscaping industry, Joe Silva, founder, president, and CEO of Garb, saw a new opportunity in 1996 as Tiger Woods emerged as a golf superstar.

“I thought, ‘He’s going to bring a lot of kids to the sport,'” says Silva. So he went to Orlando to the annual PGA Merchandise Show the next year and walked the million square feet of floor space looking for golf apparel for kids.

He didn’t find it. “There was literally nothing,” says Silva.

So Silva started Garb to fill this void. The company makes a wide range of golf shirts, shorts, hats and other clothing for kids ages 5 to 12, as well as toddlers and infants. Design takes place in Denver, then manufacturing is at contract partners in Asia and Mexico, and embellishment and distribution are in Denver. “It’s kind of a hybrid,” says Silva of the Garb model.

After launching Garb, it took five years of knocking on golf pros’ doors until sales started to get some momentum. “The last thing they wanted to think about was kids’ golf clothing,” he says of the prevailing attitude in pro shops across the country. “It was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. They showed no interest.”

But the tide turned at the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I was invited to supply product,” says Silva. In a 38,000-square-foot pavilion, Garb dominated 1,000 square feet set aside for kids’ clothing. The pros saw the long lines at the Garb tables and started buying. “They were like, ‘Wow, maybe this can work in my shop!’”

The U.S. Tennis Association came calling next, then the Professional Golfers’ Association of America “identified us as an up and comer,” says Silva.

Garb broke $1 million in sales for the first time in 2004, the year it launched the first performance golf shirt for kids.

The growth attracted heavyweights like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour to the kids’ golf apparel market. “We were no longer under the radar,” recalls Silva. “I thought,’ Now that the 800-pound gorillas are in it, now it’s real. You’ll probably lose market share but the pie will be bigger.’”

The notion has proven true over the last decade. For 2014, the company is on track for $6 million, says Silva, touting, “Q1 is in the books and we’re up 23 percent.”

Garb went into the NCAA licensed goods business in 2007, and today it represents more than a third of the company’s sales. “Instead of buying cheap, crappy T-shirts and hoodies for kids, [buyers for college bookstores] should be buying a higher-quality product,” says Sildva of the sales pitch. “It’s not the students buying this stuff, it’s the alumnus.”

One of Garb’s big breakthroughs was developing a sizing system that even a grandfather can understand. “They don’t know anything about kids’ sizing,” Silva contends. “I created a system called ‘age-appropriate sizing.’ On every single shirt, on every single hat, on every single jacket, and on every single skirt, it says, ‘Fits Ages 9-10’ or ‘Fits Ages 4-5.’ That was a huge innovation.”

The company currently has a pair of “top secret” initiatives in the works, says Silva. “They’re merger-and-acquisition, joint-venture types of things. I think it’ll give us the opportunity to double in the next couple years.”

If it comes to pass, he adds, “We’d be bringing jobs to Colorado and apparel manufacturing to Colorado.”

Challenges: “Managing a supply chain is challenging,” says Silva, citing the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland as particularly difficult events. Constantly changing tariffs make it even harder, he adds. “There’s no rulebook because the rules change every week.”

Opportunities: Higher productivity because the implementation of lean manufacturing processes and Six Sigma techniques for process improvement beginning in 2012, says Silva, touting 40 percent revenue growth the last two years without increasing the staff size. “It has changed our world. We are so much more efficient and profitable as a result. But you never perfect it.”

Silva also says Garb is looking to move into other “high-end, preppy sports” besides golf, naming everything from snowboarding to lacrosse as possibilities.

Needs: “We’re having a hell of a time finding people who want to work, because they’re very well taken care of by the federal government,” opines Silva. “There are open positions right now here for jobs that pay $9 to $11 an hour that we have trouble filling.”


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