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New outdoor clothing startup puts down roots in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Eva Shaw grew up ski racing in Vermont, so she knows a thing or two about being cold. That was the inspiration for the Middlebury College student’s start-up, Overeasy, a new outdoor clothing brand that grew out of the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies’ and Middlebury College’s Entrepreneur program.
VCET is a statewide nonprofit that promotes entrepreneurship in Vermont by providing mentorship, counseling and education to residents who want to create start-ups or expand their existing business. Skida, a Burlington-based company that makes fashionable but technical winter accessories is a notable alum of the program.
The Middlebury Entrepreneurs program is a January Term course for students who want to start a business or nonprofit organization. Students spend 40 hours a week working with start-up professionals and professors from VCET to develop their nonprofit or business idea. At the end of the class, they pitch their idea to a panel of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and industry leaders. This year’s course was taught by VCET’s David Bradbury and Sam Roach-Gerber.
According to Roach-Gerber, VCET director of innovation, the first thing students learn to do in the Middlebury Entrepreneurs program is pitch their product or idea. For Shaw, this was easy. In her many years of wearing ski gear, the Green Mountain Valley School (GMVS) graduate noticed that warmth often came at the cost of style. She was determined to make warmth look good — on the hill and off.
BIRTH OF THE HOODE
Shaw entered the program as an avid backcountry skier and seamstress, thanks to a home economics class she took as a 7th-grader in Norwich. Over a break from college, she experimented with making an over-the-helmet hood for herself. The result was a faux-fur creation, called a HoodE, that rests on top of a skier’s jacket and can be pulled up and over the helmet while skiing or sitting on a chair lift. The garment has drawstrings that let you pull it snug against a helmet so it stays on while you ski. When the hood isn’t needed, the drawstrings can be loosened so the HoodE inconspicuously falls to the wearer’s shoulders to look like a fluffy tube scarf. There are also fleece-lined flannel patterns available for the less fashion-forward.
“I wore it over my helmet at the mountain on a few really, really cold days, and people kept asking me where I’d gotten it. I thought, ‘Wow, maybe there’s a market for this,’” Shaw said.
With just her sewing machine and a few yards of faux fur, Shaw launched an Instagram account in 2016 and started taking orders for HoodEs. Soon she was scrambling to keep up.
“I made over 175 HoodEs last winter with the help of two GMVS students,” Shaw said. “At our best, we could make four or five in an hour.”
Each HoodE takes about 40 minutes to construct, start to finish, she said. Shaw continued like that, balancing orders and sewing with school at Middlebury College, until this past January, when she enrolled in the Middlebury Entrepreneurs January Term course.
After hearing Shaw’s pitch, Bradbury, VCET president and seed fund manager, and Roach-Gerber advised that she go all in, hire seamstresses and launch a website. In its first day, overeasy.co did $1,300 in ecommerce sales.
“We just had one seamstress and we didn’t even really have all the materials in hand,” said Shaw, who promptly hired more seamstresses and brought in classmate and family friend Meg Collins.
This summer, Eva is focused on creating prototypes for new styles, sourcing fabrics and continuing to improve the HoodE’s design. She plans to integrate more technical fabrics into her line. She’s been talking with Vermont Teddy Bear Company about moving her operation to their Shelburne factory.
She said she plans to keep the business in Addison County for her remaining five semesters of school at Middlebury College. Shaw is majoring in Economics and recently wrote a paper about the American textile industry. “Did you know that 97 percent of clothing in the United States is imported?” she asked. “This is a fading industry, but it’s a great source of supplementary income for many women,” Shaw said.
Among other things, her local employees have taught her a thing or two about production.
“It’s been really humbling to work with local seamstresses,” she said. “I’ve always loved sewing and making my own clothes, and I’ve learned a lot from them.”
And the age difference has also been noticeable — and educational. She said that she’s learned a lot from working with more experienced seamstresses.
“A lot of (my more experienced seamstresses) don’t do Venmo. You can’t just shoot them a text,” Shaw said. “There’s an expectation that you’ll pick up the phone, have an interaction face to face. When I pay them, we usually meet at their homes.”
She said the opportunity to participate in an intergenerational exchange of skills and knowledge has been professionally rewarding for her.
As a small company, Overeasy has to rely on middlemen to buy fabric. They’re still too small to purchase in the volumes mills expect. Shaw said most of her fabrics are made overseas, but that she’s hoping to integrate Massachusetts-based Polartec into next year’s line. “Manufacturing domestically comes at a cost, but it’s well worth it,” Shaw said.
As for balancing running a startup with being a college student, Shaw said it helps to have a partner. “If Meg has a test, I go to the meetings. If I have a test, she goes to the meetings,” she said. “It’s pretty much like taking an extra two classes. But I think it’s made me a better student.”
For now, HoodEs can be purchased online at overeasy.co. Look out for them in Vermont outdoor retail shops in the next year, or on the slopes at the Middlebury Snow Bowl.

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