Armed with a laptop, cellphone and a lot of passion, one Charleston entrepreneur has elbowed her way into the collegiate apparel market, carving out her own niche against corporate titans like Nike and Victoria's Secret.
When Nesha Sanghavi founded her UG Apparel women's fashion company in 2011, she only had license to sell West Virginia and Marshall university-branded items in just a handful of retail outlets across West Virginia.
Two years later, her clothing brand has earned license approvals from a dozen NCAA schools, and her retail footprint extends all the way from the Carolinas to Nebraska.
While she designs all the fashions in her apparel line, Sanghavi, who turns 27 next month, doesn't think of herself as a fashion designer. She considers herself an entrepreneur.
"I think an entrepreneur comes up with an idea and then does whatever it takes to meet that goal," she said.
That goal was to provide a fashionable college-branded clothing line for the modern woman.
The finance graduate and former WVU cheerleader originally took a corporate finance job in Pittsburgh after she graduated in 2008. But after putting in more hard work than her bosses seemed to be thankful for, Sanghavi set off for New York to pursue her dream.
She completed a program in fashion design from the Parsons School of Design, lined up a manufacturer and returned home to grow her brand. She originally called it University Girls Apparel, as it was initially targeted for the younger market.
One of the biggest challenges Sanghavi has faced is navigating the highly competitive collegiate fashion industry.
Anyone who wants to sell something bearing the name or logo of a school has to earn approval from that school's licensing department or official to use the school's brand.
"It's a pretty tough contract to get," Sanghavi said. "This market has become pretty saturated in the last few years, so they really put companies through strict due diligence."
The schools get a portion of the revenue generated by each sale, and they want to make sure each retailer they approve adds to the university's bottom line.
"They think of it like a pie," Sanghavi said. "They don't want to cut the pie into smaller pieces, where they're generating the same amount of money from more people. They want a brand that generates additional royalty revenues for them."
She said it's tough business for an entrepreneur to navigate because the industry is dominated by large corporations with vast resources.
"The year my brand launched was also the same year Victoria's Secret launched their (women's collegiate) line," she said. "They came into the market and just blew up. Overnight they really took over."
But she still saw an opportunity to fill a void in the market.
Sanghavi said the vast majority of college-branded clothing lines sell T-shirts or other items that are sized for younger, petite girls.
She said that didn't serve the average woman aged 25 to 45. She said those women don't want a T-shirt for tailgating but something fashionable they can wear to work or while taking the kids to soccer practice.
"A lot of women of average size, when they walk into the store and go to what's currently available, they have to either buy an extra large in that brand - because everything's sized so small - or they have to go to the men's section," Sanghavi said. "And no woman wants to go to the men's section.
"Plus, a men's shirt is fitted for a man's body, it's not fitted for a woman," she said.
So she reworked her business model and changed the company's name to UG Apparel to better fit a line for women over 25.
"We're not a junior-sized brand, we're a true women's brand, including plus sizes, and that's really what the market needed," she said. "There was a big hole in the market for that."