Patty McConnell began shooting handguns about five years ago, and after securing her Nevada carry-concealed weapon permit in 2009 she searched the Internet for a fashionable and functional shirt that allowed her to carry a small, compact handgun.
Unsatisfied with shirts made for women that she says looked like they came from her son’s closet, McConnell tried sewing her own shirt with a small inside pocket for her gun — a total disaster. McConnell’s longtime friend, Julene Franklin, has a long career in fashion design, and the two women formed Silver State Apparel in August of 2012 to design and sell a line of concealed carry women’s shirts.
Franklin, a Reno native, majored in fashion design and fashion merchandising at Texas Woman’s University in Dallas, where she lives today. She designed the button-up garments to have a chic boutique look yet still allow wearers to carry a handgun up to 7 inches long via two concealed pockets on the right and left side.
“I wanted something I could wear to work or to church or out to dinner,” McConnell says. “I wanted it to be fashionable.”
Once the pair settled on a design, it took them nearly a year of planning before their first production run of 100 shirts was ready in August. The garments are made at a factory in Dallas. Franklin manages the design and works with representative at the production center, while McConnell, a longtime Reno certified public accountant, handles the legal, financial, marketing and fund-raising efforts for the business.
“We are a perfect blend,” McConnell says. “I tried to sew a shirt and it was a complete disaster. But I know how to do all the legal stuff, and I’m setting up all the bank accounts. We both are operating in our core competencies.”
The duo also got ongoing advice and support through SCORE, the Small Business Administration program that provides volunteer counseling from retired business executives.
Currently, sales are online at silverstateapparel.com. Shirts are costly, ranging in price from $115 to $135, because Franklin and McConnell opted for the “Made in the USA” designation rather than having the shirts sewn in Mexico or China at lower production costs.
Locally, Debbie Block of U.S. Firearms Academy on Moana Lane carries the shirts in her store, and Silver State Apparel has several other gun stores in the northern Nevada and California lined up to carry the line as well.
The team also is driving traffic to their site and spurring sales using social media, through trade publications, and by attending trade shows for gun aficionados and events such as the Reno Women’s Expo. Silver State Apparel also has a virtual storefront on eBay in an effort to widen the fledgling firm’s reach.
“Strategically, we are building business relationships with people who are a good fit for us and us for them,” McConnell says. “Right now our strategy is to use multiple sales channels, such as consignment stores, going to trade shows, our Web site and eBay.”
Future products include a shirt for men and more utilitarian shirts designed for women. Eventually, McConnell says, Silver State Apparel would like to work as a volume wholesaler of concealed carry shirts for men and women.
“We want to get to that place where we are wholesaling, and maybe someday Cabela’s wants to buy our line. That’s the end goal,” McConnell says.