Business in Boardshorts Podcast
EP16 – Rebecca Fordham

EPISODE 16

Release Date: March 10, 2021

Location: Delray Beach, FL

Guest Name: Rebecca Fordham

Business Name:  Caloosa WaterWear

Business Website: ShopCaloosa.com

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Intro (guest speaking): Just enjoy every moment, and I, I think I learned that more than anything during Covid, it’s you know. You may have all the plans in the world, you may have your life figured out, and, and a whole business plan for your company, and then all of a sudden, you know, you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. You just have to appreciate every moment and live your life to the fullest and enjoy it because it’s not going to last forever.

Intro (host speaking): Welcome back or welcome to the Business in Boardshorts Podcast. Today’s guest is Rebecca Fordham from Delray Beach, Florida with Caloosa Water Wear. She started the business in 2016 and it’s an active lifestyle brand, apparel brand there in Florida. Rebecca, welcome to the show.

Guest: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.

Host: Yes, thank you for joining me. So, can you tell our listeners what is the vibe like in Delray Beach?

Guest: Well, Delray Beach is, I believe for probably like, ten years we have been the number one seaside town in America. And we are on the East Coast of Florida, we’re about a half hour south of Palm Beach and about a half hour north of Fort Lauderdale, if that kind of gives you an idea of where we are located. The vibe here is we have a really quiet downtown area, it’s historic and there’s a lot of small businesses in the downtown area and it has a lot of really fun restaurants, and it’s a really nice, like, place to come for a relaxing vacation.

Host: How long have you lived there?

Guest: I have lived here since 2013, but I did live in Florida, I kind of came and went living in Florida. So, I was here for ten years, left, and then came back. So, I’ve been back since 2013, so about seven years now.

Host: So, were you always in Delray Beach then?

Guest: No, I actually started out in, living in Fort Lauderdale and I was working down in Miami. So, I would commute down to Miami every day, which is about a 45 minute to an hour drive. And then when I came back to Florida, I ended up living in Delray Beach.

Host: What would you say is the difference between Fort Lauderdale and Delray Beach?

Guest: Well, Fort Lauderdale has changed a lot over the years. When I lived there in my 20s, it was more of a party town. There was a big spring break crowd that would come there, and they have passed a lot of laws recently to change the nightlife. And so, over the past twenty years it really has changed in terms of going out, and the businesses that are allowed to be there and the hours they are allowed to be open. The vibe in Fort Lauderdale I think has also changed a bit too, whereas the Latin community has come up from Miami and are living more in Broward County, which is Fort Lauderdale. And here in Palm Beach County, or Southern Palm Beach County where I live, we have a bit more of a New York type of crowd.

Host: Let’s transition to the early part of your career. You were in big, a big corporate setting, correct?

Rebecca: I was, yes. My first job was working for Pirellis International down in Miami. I started out as an assistant designer for someone there. And what was interesting is that, throughout my career, I have always worked in the mass markets. So, when I worked for Pirellis, I would, I would design for mass merchants like K-Mart and Target and Walmart. And as I grew in that company and became a designer, I still continued to work in, in that, in that area. So, I, I know the mass market very well.

Host: And then you moved up to Minneapolis and worked with Target, right?

Guest: I did. So, I was in Miami for about seven years and I kind of wanted to see what it was like on the retail side of things and I was always so impressed by Target when I would go and, and call on them as a, as a wholesaler. And so, I was interviewing around and just kind of wanted to see what else was out there and ended up getting a job with Target. And it was interesting because my background is fashion. I studied fashion design in school and when I went to Target, they had a position open in luggage. They said, “Look, we’re looking for someone to bring in fashion to luggage. Even though you’re not a, you’re more of a fashion, you’re more on the fashion side.” I can’t think of the name of the designer, like an engineer, you know, “We really need somebody to bring that fashion element.” So, that’s why I ended up going up there and it was really and truly, an eye-opening experience because I got to work in so many different aspects of design. So, I was in luggage first, and then I went to home goods where I was doing soft home with, you know, window panels, and toss pillows, and dish towels, and things like that. And I really learned a lot about product design, and I learned a lot about how to research products, and the industry, and what people need and make it all come together. So that I’m designing products that the world needs, it’s not just something that is, you know, is just kind of a new product and it’s out there and who knows if it will work or not.

Host: How did you transition from Target to starting your own business?

Guest: I was at Target for almost ten years and I was really, I got, I got a little burned out, I’m not going to lie. Target is an amazing company, but I was living there by myself, my family was in Florida and I didn’t really have much of a support system in Minneapolis, and I really kind of felt the need to come back home. I didn’t really know what I was going to do here, there’s not a lot of work for designers in Florida. Which is, you know, I’ve been very lucky with, with my career that I have been able to find what I have. And I just really felt this need to come home, I wanted to be closer to my parents and I kind of quit Target and ended up living with my parents for a couple of months (laughing). Until I could figure things out and I ended up finding a job at, about three months later, at a small children’s furniture company in Boca Raton.

Host: And how did the idea for your current business come about?

Guest: I wasn’t overly challenged at the children’s furniture company and I felt a need for a creative outlet, and I wasn’t sure what that looked like or anything. So, I just kind of started exploring Florida with my husband and we ended up going on a trip to Sanibel for my 41st birthday, I believe. So, Sanibel Island is on the west coast of Florida, it’s about three hours from Delray Beach. So, we drove over there and we just kind of went on a little vacation, and I wanted to go shelling. And so, I started picking up all these shells on the beach and we went to the shell museum on Sanibel Island and there was an exhibit on the Calusa people, which are the indigenous people of South Florida. And it talked about how they used shells as tools, and weapons, and all sorts of things. And I just kind of stood and stared at the exhibit. I remember just staring at it and thinking, “This is such a beautiful name. I want to do something with it, but I don’t know what it is yet.” And I just thought to myself that, “I need to remember this.” And so, a few weeks later after we came back from our vacation, I ended up meeting with a girlfriend of mine who I used to work with at Pirellis, and you know, she kept saying to me she said, “You know, you need to contact so and so because I really think you should think about starting your own company.” And I had been toying with that in my head, like I said, I was looking for that creative outlet. And then one day, I was just driving in the car, and it just came to me that I should do t-shirts for people who like to boat. (laughing) So, I ended up contacting some designers I had worked with in the past, and came up with some artwork, got a manufacturer, and kind of had my first production run. And I went to the local art festival here in town and everything was very, very well received. And I just kind of did this has a hobby, didn’t really have a plan, I didn’t have a business plan, I just kind of did it as a way to be creative.

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Host: How did it initially start when you were like, “I’m going to make shirts.” Like the demographic of who you were going after. Has that changed since the beginning?

Guest: Yes. So, I have always been a men’s wear designer. At Pirellis I designed men’s wear, at Target I was, I worked in men’s wear as well. And so, my thought was I wanted this to be a men’s wear brand because the aesthetic is something that really doesn’t exist out there for men, nor does it really for women. But I really, just kind of wanted this to be a men’s wear line because that’s what I knew. I knew the market and as I started selling the product, it was women, it was attracting women. It wasn’t, I mean, it doesn’t, it definitely attracts men and I do have a men’s wear line, but it’s become more of a women’s wear brand. Which is actually, really exciting for me because it’s something I can finally wear after all these years I’ve never been able to wear my own designs. So, now I am able to wear the designs and my husband wears the men’s stuff, obviously. But it’s, it’s fun to be able to represent the line and wear my own stuff sometimes.

Host: Initially, you had the manufacturing offsite, but now you’ve brought that onsite. Can you talk, talk to someone like myself? That, I’ve never been in the E-Commerce world or you know, the apparel world. So, what difference does that make, you know, to your bottom line? Or just in general to have that kind of set up and in house?

Guest: It made a huge difference. So, first of all, the reason that I did was that having someone else print the goods, was very costly. Not only did I have to pay for the goods, I also, I was basically paying a wholesale price, but then I was also paying for shipping. So, it was really cutting into my margin. On top of that, I really wasn’t happy with the quality I was getting. And so, I started researching a little bit, and thank goodness, you know, my dad kind of helped me with this a little bit. And we kind of talked about, “Okay, well, what would it look like if I, if I bought the equipment and had it and I, I did the manufacturing?” And so, I did, I did some research, I went to some conventions, and I found out, you know, it really didn’t cost that much. It was probably an investment of about $5,000 to buy the equipment, I needed to buy a special type of printer, I needed to buy a heat press. And then, I probably put about $20,000, over time, into buying inventory. Which ended up being very good, because I can control the quality, I can only print when I have an order. The good thing about that is I’m not buying a bunch of inventory trying to guess, oh that design going to be a winner. Because you don’t really know that until you start selling. And so, it really helps me control my costs from an inventory perspective, as well as from, you know, best seller type of situation too.

Host: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Where do you want to see this go two, three, four years down the road?

Guest: Oh my gosh. Well, COVID has changed everything. (laughing) So, I finally, I finally just in January of 2020, I quit my fulltime job to focus on Caloosa 100% and I was so excited. And then of course March 2020 came, and the world shut down. So, it was very interesting, you know, at that point we were just trying to keep our heads above water. We got very creative and I started using my sewing skills from, you know, my younger days and we started making masks, I taught my husband how to make masks, and we had a production line in the living room. I think at that point, before Covid happened, I really wanted to open my own store, I really wanted to kind of dive more into the customer apparel business. Because the good thing about doing the manufacturing myself, is I can do manufacturing for other people, or printing for other people. So, I do a lot of custom business, I print other people, other peoples apparels lines, apparel lines as well as my own. And I do a lot of work like private labels for stores, that type of thing. So, that being said, that’s kind of where we were before Covid. And then, coming out of Covid, what’s happened is that I’ve started to go to some trade shows, I’ve started to sell my line wholesale to boutiques, and I’m finding that it’s a lot easier for me to go to a trade show and sell my products to other people and have them sell them directly to the public, than it is for me to have to, you know, figure out how to market the product. Which is very difficult, I don’t know if you’ve ever had any experience in marketing, but I certainly haven’t. So, I had to learn everything I know from, you know, just reading and kind of trial and error. So, it’s been really interesting, but I definitely think in the future there, what I would like to see is, I would like some sort of retail outlet at some point. I would like to continue to do the custom work for others and I would like to continue to grow the wholesale business. So, what I’ve learned, one of the things I’ve learned through my career, is that you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket. So, if you can figure out different ways to, kind of market yourself and different outlets to sell your goods, it’s more of a safety net than it is just trying to sell to one customer all of the time.

Host: What would you say is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Guest: And I think, I just want to go back to that because I think, to what I just said, I think that is the best business advice and it’s something that I have seen other small companies do and unfortunately fail. You don’t want to have just one customer, you want to have, you know, one thing that I did learn when I was at Target, was you don’t want to have more than a third of your business in any one outlet. I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever heard and I think it’s something very difficult, because when you have a good customer or a good group of customers, you want to keep going back if you know they are going to keep buying. But you have to be able to diversify yourself so that you don’t get into a situation where, all of a sudden, one day they may go out of business or they may not be able to buy anymore, and you’re stuck then.
Host: I love that. You know, there are so many parallels there even from a marketing stance, you know, getting stuck on one particular platform. If that platform goes down, then where do you go?

Guest: Absolutely.

Host: I mean, then you’ve lost everything. What would you say is the best life advice you’ve ever received?
Rebecca: Just enjoy every moment, and I, I think I learned that more than anything during Covid, it’s you know. You may have all the plans in the world, you may have your life figured out, and, and a whole business plan for your company, and then all of a sudden, you know, you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, no one knows. And, you know, you hear of so many things that have happened during Covid like families not being able to get together, or someone being sick and you can’t go see them. And I just think you just have to appreciate every moment and live your life to the fullest and enjoy it because it’s not going to last forever. And it’s not all about making money either, you know. I mean, money’s nice (laughing), and it helps us live the life we want, but it’s not everything. If you don’t’ have a goody family, a good support system, it’s not, it’s not really worth it.
Host: I love that. Thank you very much for joining me. Where can my listeners check you out online?
Rebecca: Oh my gosh, thank you for having me, so much. I really appreciate it. You can find me on my website shopcaloosa.com and that’s S-H-O-P-C-A-L-O-O-S-A.

Host: Awesome. Thank you very much.

Rebecca: Thank you.

Overview: Rebecca Fordham founded a Florida lifestyle brand, Caloosa WaterWear, in 2016. It combines fashion and performance for the entire family.

The Caloosa name was taken from the Indigenous People of South Florida and their collection is meant to enhance comfort while enjoying all of the activities that the beaches, sun and tropical weather have to offer.

Her company is based in Delray Beach, Florida where they design and manufacture their apparel and accessories. Because it’s handled on-site, they are able to offer custom work too.

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