The Crunch: Corporate lawyer and frequent flier, Scott Jordan got the idea for SCOTTeVEST when he needed a way to carry his devices and personal gear while traveling. He and his wife, Laura, founded the company in 2000 to market his idea for an “eVest” based on a classic fisherman’s vest but styled for business professionals. SCOTTeVEST makes “technology-enabled clothing” — apparel featuring pockets to carry all of life’s gadgets without the need for extra bags or packs. One of the first apparel company to utilize the internet as its primary distribution channel, SCOTTeVEST has grown into a leading lifestyle brand offering an array of vests, jackets, hoodies, pants, and shirts for on-the-go consumers. Based in small-town Ketchum, Idaho, the company also supports numerous local charitable organizations and prides itself on its team environment.
The idea behind SCOTTeVEST grew out of an encounter between a pair of headphones and an airport doorknob.
In the late 1990s, Scott Jordan was a frustrated corporate lawyer who was spending too much time on the road. He had been looking to leave law and get into business but hadn’t found an opportunity with an existing company. Eventually, he realized that if he was really going to change his life, he was going to have to build a business on his own.
Meanwhile, Scott was spending a good deal of his time in airports — all while carrying his burgeoning collection of electronic gear. “I couldn’t figure out a way to carry my phone, music player, headphones, camera, and chargers without tucking them away where I couldn’t get to them,” Scott said. “I tried using a fanny pack, but it wasn’t a good look. And a man purse? I just couldn’t see it.”
Those circumstances continued until one day when Scott was rushing to catch another flight and caught his headphone wires on a doorknob. “I thought my ear was going to fall off — no exaggeration,” he said. “Then I thought, ‘Someone should figure out how to wire devices into clothing in a way that looks good.’ And it hit me: That’s my idea.”
Scott’s close encounter with losing an ear led to SCOTTeVEST, a line of apparel that conceals personal tech. His idea incorporates specialized pockets and conduits for wires, or what he has described as “a techie version of a classic fisherman’s vest.” Many of the company’s products can house enough gear to render a carry-on bag unnecessary while still presenting clean lines and a professional appearance at the airport and office.
The need for pockets hasn’t gone out of fashion. “We got started before smartphones, before there was any device convergence,” Scott said. “But convergence really hasn’t had that much impact on us. It seems people have more to carry than ever.”
An Apparel Line that Embraced E-Commerce Early On
Scott’s initial plan was to patent his pocket and conduit system and then license it to others. He designed his first eVest as a proof of concept, and he and his wife Laura — who also had a background in law — started SCOTTeVEST only when the patent process proved slow going.
“We built a brochure website, and our graphic designer said, ‘Hey, for $500 more, I can e-commerce-enable your site,'” Scott said. “And we said, ‘Yeah, why not? Let’s go ahead and do that.’ Little did we know that our decision would make SCOTTeVEST the first apparel company to establish itself with the internet as its primary distribution channel.”
That penchant for original thinking extends to the way Scott and Laura have operated SCOTTeVEST over the years.
“We’ve watched a lot of once-prominent companies go in and out of bankruptcy, and we’ve stuck with our focus of building a direct-to-consumer brand while also not taking the path of companies that have raised money on valuations,” Scott said “Instead, we’ve focused on profitability and on building a real brand that our customers love and keep coming back to.”
Along with an unfailing commitment to provide excellent value, SCOTTeVEST’s creative use of media exposure has helped drive growth. Several years ago the company was at a crossroads because its media strategy was no longer driving new sales at the desired rate.
“So we experimented with some TV advertising,” Scott said. In a 2011 appearance on the ABC television program Shark Tank, Scott left a $1 million investment on the table in what is considered the most controversial episode of the series. “The appearance did extraordinarily well for us, doubling year-over-year sales,” he said.
Overcoming Operational Challenges on the Way to Sustained Success
Scott said there have been some hiccups along the company’s growth trajectory. Basing the company in the small town of Ketchum, Idaho, for example, has not been without its challenges.
“We have 14 full-time employees,” Scott said. “And we do more sales per employee than any apparel company in the world. But I think understanding the importance of corporate culture has been a real learning curve for us.”
Hiring the wrong people can cause lasting damage. “We spent years digging ourselves out from under some expensive decisions,” Scott said.
That’s why SCOTTeVEST goes to great lengths to retain the “A-players” in the organization. “A-players hire A-players, the saying goes, and B-players hire C-players,” Scott said. “I’m proud to say we’ve recovered, and we’re much stronger as a result, back on a path of significant growth year over year.”
Committed to Expanding Charitable Giving in a Genuine Way
In addition to building a business and a brand, Scott, Laura, and the rest of the SCOTTeVEST team build community bonds through a sustained commitment to charitable giving.
“Regardless of how well the company is doing, Laura and I have made it our life’s mission to always give back,” Scott said. The couple owns — and loves — four standard poodles and makes sizable individual contributions to their local animal shelter and other local charities.
In addition to supporting a selection of local and international charities, the company also gives any returned products to its local library thrift shop. “Most companies destroy their defective products,” Scott said. “They simply do not want anything that’s defective showing their brand to exist. Our feeling is that, if a product with a minor defect provides all the functionality, we’re not going to throw it away or burn it.”
Scott’s ultimate goal is to give ownership of SCOTTeVEST to a nonprofit charitable organization and see all corporate profits donated to worthy causes. But where the money will go is still an open question, Scott said, because he’s wary of charitable initiatives that ultimately serve marketing purposes. “If it’s not genuine and true, I’d rather sell the products for more, make more money, and give the money itself to charity.”
From Classic Travel Line to Lifestyle Brand with Pieces for Everyone
In 2014, Scott published a book, Pocket Man, in which he detailed how he reinvented himself by pursuing his passions and “mastering the art of passionate, personal promotion.” A frustrated lawyer turned entrepreneur and business and community leader, Scott built a new life out of an idea he pursued single-mindedly to fruition.
Scott, Laura, and the rest of the SCOTTeVEST team continue to build on that idea, growing and diversifying the company’s line of technology-enabled clothing with offerings targeted at women and a variety of non-travel-related pursuits.
“We’re much more of a lifestyle brand than when we started,” Scott said. “We’re developing more for women, and looking to expand internationally. And now with our full shirting program and new pants coming, you can wear SCOTTeVEST every day from head to toe, not just when you travel.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the company’s dedication to quality and classic styling. “We don’t listen to that group in New York that tells you what colors are going to be in style in five years and that what you own today is obsolete,” Scott said. “We really love it when someone buys something from us and 10 years later is still wearing it.”
That kind of thinking helps build sustainable apparel brands. “I’m proud to have built a brand that will live well beyond my days,” Scott said. “I’m proud that our customer base is growing and coming back for more, and of the great customer service our team provides.”
“We don’t just talk about it — we really believe that relationships are important, within our company, with our customers, and in our communities. An idea only goes as far as the good it does.”