After getting a taste for Richmond during a startup accelerator program last year, a young Iowa-born company with a niche clothing product is making Shockoe Bottom its home base.
No Limbits, which designs and sells jeans for amputees, expects to open its headquarters in the 1717 Innovation Center on East Cary Street later this year.
Owner Erica Cole, 26, founded the company in Iowa in early 2019, inspired by the loss of a leg in a car crash a year earlier.
Upon receiving a prosthetic, she used her life-long sewing skills to alter her own clothing as she adjusted to her new life. In its early days, the company offered decorative covers for prosthetics and evolved to make jeans with zippers on the legs to work around prosthetics more easily.
She initially built the company while earning a chemistry degree at the University of Iowa, where she entered a business pitch competition. Her effort reached a turning point in summer 2020 when Cole got into an incubator program operated by Target. That’s when she decided to put her chemistry career on the shelf to pursue No Limbits full time.
“I felt like there was something there and something I would regret not pursuing,” she said. “It was just a curiosity, a calling. I don’t know what to call it. I said screw that stability and let’s go chaotic.”
The stint in the Target incubator heightened the company’s profile. Parents of children with sensory processing disorders reached out to ask if the company made adult-sized clothing, which inspired the upcoming launch of the company’s new line this winter. The clothes are made without seams and tags and are moisture-wicking.
There are plans for additional clothing lines that cater to other types of physical challenges as well, including a line of clothing for people in wheelchairs slated for the fall.
Factors that went into the creation of the amputee clothing included thinking about the placement of zippers for ease of use and fabric reinforcements to handle the additional wear and tear that prosthetics can cause.
“The way it is designed now is to make a caretaker’s life easier. We’re looking at it like how do we make (life easier for) the person wearing it,” Cole said. “How do we not make the issue worse and how do we think about this person’s independence?”
Cole became acquainted with Richmond as part of Lighthouse Labs’ fall 2021 accelerator class. No Limbits was one of eight companies to take part in the early-stage startup program.
During the session’s weeklong in-person segment, Cole came to see Richmond as an ideal location to grow her business in a place she found personally appealing.
“I was looking for a startup community. That sounds generic, but I knew I would find something and I found that in Richmond. I was here for one week in Richmond and I fell in love with the area and the restaurants,” she said.
Cole noted the proximity to Washington, D.C. and the Richmond area’s relative affordability as reasons why Richmond made sense for the new homebase.
At the time of the Lighthouse Labs program, Cole was based in Iowa and she’s since moved to St. Louis.
“I was perfectly prepared to move wherever the business was best suited,” she said.
The company has five part-time remote employees. Cole hopes she can fill two planned-for full-time positions with Richmond-area workers.
The company designs the clothing in house, and contracts with a manufacturer in Bangladesh. It sells its clothing through its online store.
Cole designs the clothing in coordination with medical professionals and people with first-hand experience of the disabilities. Cole finds her advisers through a combination of networking via Facebook groups and support groups as well as cold calls.
“A lot are willing to advise for free because there really isn’t that much out there for options,” she said.
Ahead of its move, Cole said that No Limbits would be featured in an episode of “Shark Tank” that will air in early April. She was mum on the details prior to the episode’s premiere but said the show reached out to her about applying after producers saw a Kickstarter campaign she launched for No Limbits.
“They had the official email address, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll hop on a call,’” she said. “It took a long time (to prepare) and it was really kind of stressful up to that filming.”
Cole said she was able to call on the mentors she met through Lighthouse Labs to prepare for the episode, which was filmed in September 2021.
“Going up in front of those experts was the ultimate test of ‘Can you do this?’” she said.
Armed with $400,000 from a capital raise last month, Cole said the company will put 35,000 pieces of clothing into production in April to sell over the following several months.
She said a nonprofit recently placed an order for clothing to distribute to patients of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and there are plans to make the company’s jeans available for purchase at 1,600 prosthetic clinics over a 12-month rollout starting in August.