Colorado Springs, Colorado

Founded: 2004

Privately owned

Employees: 14

Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle

Products: Apparel

Founder Jan Erickson is bringing her clothing manufacturer back to its basics with a strategic shift.

Erickson faced a pivotal decision in fall 2017. After years of double-digit growth, the company began to see a decline in sales in 2015. “As a result, we took a hard look at our operation and decided to return to our adaptive fashion roots,” she says.

The move opened the door to a leaner, smarter operation. It also allowed Erickson to refocus on producing “easy-on, easy off” jackets, vests, hats, scarves, leg warmers and wraps for “those who need a little help getting dressed.” And Janksa is not alone. Industry experts estimate the expanding U.S. adaptive clothing market’s value at more than $40 billion. The sector has already been embraced by brands like Zappos and Tommy Hilfiger.

As the 2014 SBA Small Business Person of the Year, Erickson’s driving passion had always been to manufacture comfort wear — an initiative inspired by a friend who’d had a stroke. But during apparel market debut at the Denver Merchandise Mart in 2004 the company’s colors and styles caught the eye of traditional retail buyers. “We suddenly realized we had fashion market potential, including jackets and coats,” she explains. At its peak, Janska supplied 1,000 stores and was included in 10 catalogs.

But sales began to slip as online competition surged. Brick-and-mortar retailers, looking for ways to solve sales losses, bought fewer expensive brands and eliminated some outerwear lines. Those changes had a dramatic impact on how apparel was sourced, sewn, warehoused, and distributed. “We saw the influx of fast, cheap fashion,” she explains. “Today, we still supply about 500 stores and five catalogs, but we’ve had to adapt.”

The company ultimately engaged the Colorado Springs-based QUAD Innovation Partnership — a consortium of college and university business and marketing problem solvers. Their challenge: to evaluate whether it was viable for Janska to return to the adaptive fashion market. Research confirmed that in view of the world’s aging population and interest in adaptive fashion, the market offered strong potential. A key recommendation was to create a catalog and stronger online messaging to reach this demographic.

Erickson says she remains committed to manufacturing clothing in the U.S. In order to pivot, operations had to become leaner. “We cut staff. We stopped going to fashion trade shows in order to focus on reaching our specific market,” she says. “We’ve also brought design in-house and outsource all-weather wear manufacturing to a Boston company.”

The result has been less waste and warehouse inventory. Janska’s high-quality fleece fabric is still imported from suppliers in China. And beginning in 2019, the company will launch its Everyday Adaptive Fashion collection using an “intelligent” fabric that is soft, washable, and offers antibacterial qualities.

Erickson admits while the company’s renewed focus isn’t as sexy as other branded designer apparel, it’s important to clients and stakeholders. “Research shows that individuals with physical limitations still value personal dignity and comfort.” And as old doors close, new ones are opening. “It’s been like starting again,” she says. “We’ve come back to our original purpose.”

Challenges: Catalyzing growth in a competitive market. “The apparel world has changed,” says Erickson. “Finding ways to scale adaptive fashion is a top priority.”

Opportunities: Erickson points to new sales channels. “Ours is an emerging market with international potential for both B2B and B2C opportunities. Companies like Zappos Adaptive are already including us in their catalog.”

Needs: “Investors who understand our market potential,” notes Erickson. “Likely candidates include medical professionals, long-term care communities and gerontologists as well as family members and friends. We see our biggest outreach to tens of millions of caregivers, often female daughters or relatives. That requires increased product education and marketing.”