Alumni make killing on clothing
Entrepreneurs Abbas Haider and Robert Davis spend their time designing whatever ensemble their clients can imagine, from magician suits with hidden pockets to bulletproof backpacks.
Haider, 23 and recent business graduate of the University of Mary Washington, started their company, Aspetto Inc., in 2008. The business, which manufactures most of its products in Fredericksburg, Va., custom designs men’s suits and will expand to include women’s wear by next month.
During fall 2011, Davis, also 23 and a business graduate of UMW, joined as the company began to include American Armor Attire Inc., their custom bullet-resistant clothing line. The expansion was created for an assignment for a hypothetical international marketing seminar class project with Professor Galen deGraff of management and marketing.
“What’s neat is that they really did it,” said deGraff. “And they’re making me a Harris Tweed shooting jacket.”
The students earned A’s on their project, along with post-graduation job security and easy access to a smart sense of fashion.
In response to recent shootings, particularly the disaster at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Ct., the website and YouTube hits for the company have increased dramatically.
“It’s terrible, but at the same time, we’re here to protect people,” Haider said.
The suits are lined with Kevlar, a bullet-resistant material which can be built into shirts, vests, jackets, suits or backpacks, though customers can request any item to be made bulletproof.
Protection ranges from level IIIA to level IV, which are among the highest levels of defense. They protect users from bomb fragments and most handguns.
“It’s rewarding when a customer says it fits great,” Davis said, “or when we see pictures of our suits on Facebook.”
Currently, the duo is making the uniform coats for the Stafford County Sheriff’s Department. Aspetto works with other government agencies as well.
Typical bullet-resistant suits weigh less than five pounds, and shirts less than one pound, and the protection is not visible to others, either.
“You don’t feel the weight because it rests on your shoulders like a backpack,” said Haider.
The team puts in anywhere from two to 12 orders per day, with their consumer base continually growing. They signed a partnership in Tokyo, Japan last month.
Haider noted there are only four other full-time employees including Davis.
“We work hard every day and try to stay positive,” said Haider. “If I’m down, Rob’s got me, if he’s down, I’ve got him.”
Expansion continues with the company preparing to launch a new app for smartphones that allows customers to create their own “look.” They create a new bulletproof product about once every two months and plan on expanding to “at least five countries,” by the end of 2013, according to Haider.
After a day of work, Davis said their biggest concern is to “make sure that every client is satisfied.”
Haider’s and Davis’ experience in business earned them an invitation to speak to UMW’s Entrepreneur Club last semester about their double lives as students and business people.
The two are admired by current business-administration students.
“I’ve heard good things about them,” said senior business major Mark Baker. “I think it’s really great.”
Haider commended the recent startup of the club, and encouraged further development of business activity at UMW, suggesting, “It would be cool if Mary Washington could offer small rooms for students to work out of if they’re starting a business.”