Ex-skater finds thriving market

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Sharene Eble started her off-the-rack skating dress business 11 years ago in San Diego, Calif.

When Sharene Eble was 14, her mom caught her faking an illness to avoid an ice skating competition – all because she didn’t like the dress her mother had made for her.
“It just didn’t look right, I hated it. I told her I didn’t want to wear it,” she said. “So my mother said, ‘there’s the machine, you can make your own.’ So I did. I started sewing my own then. After college, I got back into ice skating, and realized that there was a need for off-the-rack dresses. So I quit a great job as an accountant and started the business.”
Sharene’s Skate Wear was born 11 years ago in San Diego, Calif. After dramatic rises in workmen’s compensation insurance rates and increasing regulations from state and local government, Sharene and her husband, Jeff, moved the business to Colorado Springs.
“My first choice was Florida, but Sharene fell in love with Colorado Springs when we came here for the Broadmoor Open,” Jeff said. “I fully admit that I was wrong. This was the best move for us.”
The two operate Sharene’s Skate Wear out of a retail space at 1414 S. Tejon St. They employ 12 workers, including full-time seamstresses and pattern cutters.
“We do everything ourselves,” Sharene said. “I create the designs – that’s my favorite part. It’s the easy, fun part of the business. The rest of it, the business part, I let other people handle.”
That’s where Jeff comes in – he handles shipping and orders. He knows how many dresses are shipped yearly – about 7,200 – and where the dresses are shipped.
“It’s easier to list the companies we don’t ship to,” Jeff said. “We ship to a company in Japan, they are our largest direct retail distributor; we send them thousands every year. We even send five or six dresses to the United Arab Emirates.”
Skating styles by Sharene are shipped to skaters in the United Kingdom, Canada and the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Finland and Iceland.
Jimmy Torres, pro shop manager at the Fairfax Ice Arena in Virginia, buys more than 100 dresses a year from Sharene.
He said the quality of dresses, as well as the customer service he receives, are reasons that he continues to buy from the Colorado Springs business.
“She offers options that other companies don’t,” he said. “For instance, she’ll do all the beading for us. So many parents don’t have time to add the beading, so it’s a nice extra. She does such good quality work too; her dresses are very popular here.”
Torres, who also buys from several other ice-skating dressmakers, said Sharene’s styles are different.
“They are unique,” he said. “She puts a lot of work into them, and they don’t look like other dresses you buy off the rack.”
Sharene’s Skate Wear was the first business to offer off-the-rack competition wear for skaters.
Now, the business is branching out into gymnastic and baton leotards.
“We decided to add them to the catalog,” Sharene said. “Basically, it’s the same style as the dresses, without the skirts.”
Sharene said she believes the leotards for baton twirlers will be as popular as the ice-skating dresses are – based on the more than 5,000 twirlers show up at the national twirling competition.
“You wouldn’t think that there is much of a market there,” she said. “But we estimate there are about 70,000 baton twirlers in the country. So, it definitely works for us. Our new tag line will be ‘Performance wear for the female athlete.’”
The couple plans to launch new leotard styles in their 2006 catalog, which is sent to more than 12,500 customers. Each dress can be made into a leotard – and can be in custom color and styles, but must use patterns already in existence.
“We make dresses in colors that you don’t see anywhere else,” she said. “It’s one of our trademarks – bright, beautiful colors.”
Once Sharene creates a dress, it is transferred to a computer that creates patterns. Two people cut the patterns, while the rest of the staff sews the material. Sharene applies the stones that add glitter and sparkle to the outfit by hand.
“The stonework is very complicated,” she said, holding up an outfit that gleams with tiny rhinestones. “The more stonework a dress has, the more it costs.”
The price of a skating dress ranges from $100 to $300, depending on the intricacies of the pattern, Sharene said. A hand-sewn, custom-made dress from a seamstress can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500, Sharene said.
“The cost is really all over the place for custom designed dresses,” she said. “It can range, depending on what you want.”
Sharene and Jeff plan to market the latest styles at the Dance Retailer Trade Show News meeting in Las Vegas. The exposure could allow them to expand their business even beyond gymnastics and baton twirling clothes.
“We’ll really make a name for ourselves there,” Jeff said. “It’s a great way to let people know what we have to offer.”