Cheryl McConnell, wearing a Liteside Ushood, poses next to the company’s Reflective style. BizWest/Ken Amundson

From box to market: Ushood gets underway

ERIE — A simple idea sketched on a cardboard box 20 years ago has germinated into an outdoor sportswear company that is getting attention from athletes who ride everything from snowshoes to surf boards.

The invention: The Ushood, a single-piece upper body base-layer shirt with attached hood and face mask. The company goes by the same name, Ushood LLC.

An early pattern for the Ushood created in 2008 when the family first thought about whether the garment had commercial potential. Courtesy Ushood

Here’s how that 20-year-old idea grew into a business all those years later, as told by company co-owner Cheryl McConnell.

Cheryl’s husband Sean returned from a day of skiing in the Colorado high country complaining of stiffness caused by constant shrugging and tugging to keep snow and wind from getting under his ski clothes. .

As luck would have it, Cheryl’s mom, Cindy Haight — aka Mema — a seamstress by hobby, was visiting.

Sean tore apart a cardboard box and sketched on the inside the design of something that might help. He asked Mema if she could sew something like that, and before she returned to her home she had sewed what the family called the first “shoodie.”

Unlike a normal hoodie, it was made of a quick-drying, wicking material that provided both warmth and resistance to the wind.

Over the years, Mema made several of the garments with its unique design for family members. McConnell kids wore them while playing soccer on cold days. Cheryl and Sean wore them on the sidelines, not to mention while engaged in snow sports.

Then, three years ago, son Shen McConnell used the shoodie as the basis for his eighth grade capstone project at Boulder Country Dayschool. The business plan that resulted caused Cheryl and Sean to say, “why not.”

Sean McConnell wore a Ushood while skiing this season. Courtesy Ushood

Neither of the two had any background in retailing or manufacturing or merchandising. Sean is a plumber (Aloha Mechanical Inc.) and Cheryl describes herself as a mom who spent her early life not attending college but following the Grateful Dead.

They saw the potential and began to put together their plans. Then in January 2018, they signed up for a booth at the granddaddy of outdoor trade shows, the first Outdoor Retailer show held in Denver.

Cheryl went booth to booth at the show as she looked for a potential partner to help manufacture what had now been named the Ushood. “The show made us realize that we wanted to stay away from the big retail market. I knew I couldn’t be running to Asia [for production]. The last booth I visited said ‘made in the USA,’ and all the tables were full of people. Someone said ‘can I help you’ and history was made right there,” Cheryl said.

Not content to take the word of Everest Textile Co. Ltd., the couple traveled to Forest City, N.C., to check out the operation themselves.

They found a factory employing local people who spin the thread, produce the cloth and then manufacture clothing items for dozens of U.S. companies. The McConnells placed their first order for 20,000 units.

“It’s a Bluesign company,” Cheryl said, referring to Everest’s commitment to responsibly use resources and clean manufacturing processes to protect workers and the environment. That fits with Ushood’s desire to eventually achieve B Corp. status.

Ushood products, available online from Ushood.com, from Amazon and locally from the gift shop at the St. Julien Hotel in Boulder, come in three styles for men, women and children.

The company’s heaviest is called Pinnacle and is designed for use with winter sports. It’s Liteside is suitable for use when fishing or when engaged in outdoor activities during warmer months. While not designed to be used in water, surfers find that it protects against the sun and surfer rash. Both of those styles are made from a polyester/spandex blend. The third and newest style is called Reflective. It contains reflective elements that make it useful for bikers and runners who venture out during low-light periods of the day. It is a nylon/spandex blend.

Prices range from $65 to $95. Fulfillment for orders happens from their home-based office and showroom in Erie.

Cheryl said the company plans to use trade shows, social media — with help from daughter Chandoline — and direct contact with potential customer groups to market their products. And so far the company has had success.

When Cheryl heard about a young man seeking help to participate in a snowshoe competition in Summit County, she supplied him with a Ushood. That led her to the U.S. Snowshoe Association, which has agreed to a sponsorship deal with Ushood for the U.S. Snowshoe Team.

“It’s all about developing relationships, looking down every avenue, and not assuming there isn’t a resource for us,” Cheryl said.

Beyond sports, Cheryl said the bigger vision for the company involves construction workers, municipal governments and agencies such as police departments. “After a solid year of selling, we’ll have a track record and can maybe get in with them then,” she said.

The company has been financed so far by the McConnells and one investor. They may bring on other investors as they grow, she said.

In the meantime, they’re working on new designs for the coming year, which will include Ushoods with trims and with a ponytail accommodation. They’ve been asked to consider matching leggings, and designs are underway for that expansion of their product line.

The company also is continuing a commitment to philanthropy. Money from every sale is committed to nonprofits selected semi-annually to receive assistance. Blue Sky Bridge, a child abuse intervention and education agency in Boulder, was the first designated charity. Currently, three agencies are recipients: the California Wildfire Association, the Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome Foundation and EFAA, a Boulder County organization that provides short-term housing, food supplies and other services to people in the county.

“The philanthropic piece is important to me. You tend to lose that when working through large retailers,” Cheryl said.

ERIE — A simple idea sketched on a cardboard box 20 years ago has germinated into an outdoor sportswear company that is getting attention from athletes who ride everything from snowshoes to surf boards.

The invention: The Ushood, a single-piece upper body base-layer shirt with attached hood and face mask. The company goes by the same name, Ushood LLC.

An early pattern for the Ushood created in 2008 when the family first thought about whether the garment had commercial potential. Courtesy Ushood

Here’s how that 20-year-old idea grew into a business all those years later, as told by company co-owner Cheryl McConnell.

Cheryl’s husband Sean returned from a day of skiing in the Colorado high country complaining of stiffness caused by constant shrugging and tugging to keep snow and wind from getting under his ski clothes. .

As luck would have it, Cheryl’s mom, Cindy Haight — aka Mema — a seamstress by hobby, was visiting.

Sean tore apart a cardboard box and sketched on the inside the design of something that might help. He asked Mema if she could sew something like that, and before she returned to her home she had sewed what the family called the first “shoodie.”

Unlike a normal hoodie, it was made of a quick-drying, wicking material that provided both warmth and resistance to the wind.…