By Diane Mastrull
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Avi Loren Fox’s entrepreneurial endeavor with a hooded scarf started where so many efforts to find oneself do — at a bar.
The place: McShea’s Restaurant & Bar in Narberth. The time: September 2013.
Fox’s dilemma: The Narberth native and 2010 Temple University graduate with a degree in environmental studies had just closed a photography business she and her brother Nikolai operated for three summers.
“I decided to enter that terrifying space of taking a year without any plans,” Fox recalled, citing her mother, Teresa, a meditation instructor, as the inspiration for that timeout.
So to McShea’s Fox went, wearing a hooded scarf she had made out of old sweaters.
“All of a sudden, I realized everyone was looking at me,” Fox said. “That’s where the Wild Mantle story started.”
First came 50 orders from McShea’s patrons and acquaintances for Fox’s head-and-neck covering — called the Mantle; the company name is Wild Mantle — which required her to solicit on Facebook for seamstresses to help make them.
They sold for $144 — the price settled on by Fox after she consulted a numerology psychic, who advised that 44 was her career number, success her trademark, and “to take what’s in your heart and make it bigger.”
To accomplish the latter, Fox needed to find a U.S. manufacturer willing to work with a start-up to sew hoods made of alpaca from Peru and lined with fleece.
(Clothing dependent on scavenged material, such as used sweaters, is hard to scale in quantities to meet the kind of wholesale demand Wild Mantle will need to grow into the sustainable business Fox envisions, experts said.)
She found Ice Box Knitting Mill in Longmont, Colo., which required a minimum order — 144. Talk about karma.
Then this fall came the real magic, as Fox put it: Wild Mantle launched a Kickstarter campaign Nov. 20 to raise $30,000 in 34 days to cover the cost of the first batch of Mantle hooded scarves.
Fox raised more, $39,827. She attributes that to some high-profile Twitter promotions by actress Kat Dennings, who stars in the CBS series 2 Broke Girls and, as a Bryn Mawr native, was home-schooled with Fox.
The first batch of scarves, expected by March or April, primarily will go to Wild Mantle’s (www.wildmantle.com) Kickstarter backers.
Fox hopes to have hoods to offer retailers by fall. They will retail for $280, dictated by the price of alpaca, and, she added, “I want to pay people fairly to manufacture in the U.S.A.”
Among those she has consulted for advice are Dave Neill and Jacob Hurwitz, the Wynnewood cofounders of American Trench L.L.C. They raised $19,108 on Kickstarter in early January 2013 to help launch their Made-in-the-U.S.A. line of trench coats, currently retailing for $785.
But the outerwear market has proved an expensive one — involving much capital to purchase materials and meet manufacturer minimums. So, Hurwitz said, American Trench has turned its focus to socks and caps it has made in Reading and North Carolina while the company nears profitability and can better support its coat line.
He called Wild Mantle’s Kickstarter performance “totally awesome and really the testament to America’s support of entrepreneurs.”
As to Wild Mantle’s prospects, he said the world outside crowdfunding required “adjustments along the way to a more commercial environment where you have to find the right price.”
“She’s either going to find boutiques” that will carry a $280 scarf, Hurwitz said, “or she’s going to have to come up with a garment that’s less expensive.”
As a college student, Fox, now 28 and living in Ardmore, was honored by the Society of Women Environmental Professionals for founding and running for three years Narberth Greens, a grassroots organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting environmentally friendly living. Among its accomplishments was a flower and vegetable exchange for farmers to swap surplus crops, and an energy challenge for the borough.
Sustainability remains a priority for Fox. She is a member of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, where her hooded scarf was little more than a concept at the time of the support group’s main annual networking function in 2013, the Social Venture Institute.
Yet “there was a buzz through the conference from some of the other entrepreneurs, even experienced ones, that, ‘Hey, I think this woman is on to something!’ ” executive director Jamie Gauthier wrote last week in an e-mail.
She has been impressed with Fox’s progress.
“Think of all the young people who have had trouble lately finding gainful employment,” Gauthier said. “Avi is an example of how you can employ yourself and do it on your own terms and according to your own values.”
Fox named her scarves Mantle because, in the Golden Compass young-adult books, it meant a role or responsibility and, in ancient times, a loose-fitting cloak, she said.
She hopes to have enough capital to open a studio by summer or fall, to afford employees in 2016 — and possibly influence an industry.
Said Fox: “It’s really a medium for me to figure out what the next cutting edge is of social and environmental change within the manufacturing realm.”