PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Chris Chapman wants everyone to ride bikes. And he hopes some of them, at least, ride around wearing one of his Oregon-branded jerseys.
Chapman, a die-hard cyclist and apparel professional, recently started a bike sportswear company, "It's in my Heart." The startup makes recreational cycling apparel whose central design feature is Chapman's interpretation of the locally famous green-colored heart-in-Oregon sticker created by Portlander Chris Bucci.
Chapman's startup is just the latest bike-based business in bike-crazy Portland. But he believes he's found a niche that will help distinguish "Heart" in a saturated business space.
"I'm after the Average Joe cyclist who likes to represent their state," says Chapman, 50. "My stuff isn't for the hardcore cyclist though technically, it's got a lot of good technical features. It's made to look good and made to make people feel good wearing it."
Chapman may want to make apparel for the ordinary jock but his background is that of the hardcore cyclist. He's raced a lot — road, short track, cyclo-cross and mountain biking. He's worked as a bike messenger, too.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Chapman moved to Portland in 1986 and studied at and graduated from Bassist College, now known as the Art Institute of Portland, with a degree in apparel design.
For the past 23 years, Chapman has worked for or founded several sports-based companies:
Brand manager of an outdoor line within the sportswear and bike apparel company, Castelli; marketing manager for a company that makes bikes for security and police, Volcanic Bikes; and co-founder of a snowboarding apparel line, Betty Rides.
Chapman says that as much as he liked working for other people and the steady paycheck that usually came with it, he's been most challenged by the startup ethos — the satisfaction of creating something and seeing it grow and flourish.
The recession helped provide the opportunity to start out on his own when, in recent years, his work became more freelance and consulting based, anyway. But what kind of startup?
For starters, it had to be related to sports apparel, Chapman says. That's the business he knows and loves. It also had to have a distinguishing feature in a competitive sportswear apparel market.
In January, Chapman started his company. He had some savings and a line of credit. But he didn't feel confident about a design focus for the apparel.
Then a light flashed in his head.
Chapman kept seeing Bucci's ubiquitous Oregon sticker design around town. He also read a story about him. He didn't know Bucci but he wanted to use Bucci's design in his apparel company.
"When you start a company, you need a punch," says Chapman. "Something that's not new, something people have seen before and like."
Chapman contacted Bucci and arranged to meet him for coffee to pitch his idea. In April, a deal was struck: Chapman would pay a royalty fee to Bucci every quarter based on sales for the use of his design.
Currently, Chapman's interpretation of Bucci's design can be found on cycling jerseys and socks. Eventually, the company will carry other cycling gear and accessories. Chapman has also created apparel based on Bucci's heart designs for other states, including Texas, Washington and Florida.
Chapman does most everything on his own, except make the apparel, which is manufactured in Colombia, and ship online orders, which is handled through a fulfillment center contracted in Milwaukie. Doing things on his own has pushed him to exhaust all of his contacts from years in the business — sales representatives, marketing experts and so on.
So far, Chapman says he's sold about 600 jerseys, mostly in Portland. He sees plenty of opportunities for growth.
But he also sees challenges.
"I want to broaden the line so I don't just have one state-themed jersey and sock in different colors," says Chapman. "I need a rack of jerseys that don't have a heart on it. It's important to have other products to go with what I have already in order to sell an entire line. So I'm trying to broaden beyond the heart design."
Chapman, who is married with four children, says he dreams of growing "Heart" into a company with annual revenues of $10-20 million and a staff of, say, 20 people. He doesn't have aspirations of selling or exiting his business should it expand and become successful. He wants to keep it in the family.
"I'd like to create something," he says, "that I'd pass on down to my kids."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.