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Trendsetters: Uniforms with Style

Torey Rose was teaching home economics and coaching varsity girls volleyball and basketball at a private high school in DeKalb County when she became increasingly frustrated with the vendors from whom she tried to buy uniforms for her teams. When she brought the issue to the attention of her principal, he issued Rose a challenge: design and sew your own uniforms.

At the time, schools had to order stock uniforms that varied only by school color or logo. And parents often had to buy multiple versions of the uniforms as their kids grew up and out of their old ones.

So she spent countless nights, weekends and school breaks tackling that challenge. Rose experimented with different fabrics and worked with a graphic designer to create unique and stylish uniforms that reflect the current trends in sportswear. She also incorporated stretchable fabrics with adjustable seams that allow them to go up and down a full size. That way, the team member who gets a uniform as a freshman could conceivably wear the same uniform as a senior.

Rose and the designer would start with sketches of what they wanted the uniforms to look like. “Then we added more color to them, we cut up the fabric and sewed it back together but in different ways, so it wasn’t just the logo we were putting on. We were doing a lot more. Our uniforms looked very different from the ones you would get out of a catalog.”

Her designs were so popular that she had requests to make them for the school’s football, baseball, softball and cheerleading teams. When competing teams became intrigued with the design and fit of her uniforms, they began to order them as well.

After three years of teaching and coaching by day and working on her uniforms in her Gwinnett home by night, Rose learned her teaching contract was not being renewed. “[My principal] said, ‘You need to go do this. You have something here, and this place is kind of holding you back.’”

Today, 20 years later, nothing is holding Rose back. Her company, YSS (You’re Sew Special) Athletics, has 45 employees and provides uniforms to schools and rec program teams –  like Kennesaw State University, the Douglasville Cheer Stars competition gym and Perry High School – throughout the United States and beyond that want something different from traditional uniforms. 

The company has no inventory of completed garments. Instead, it custom designs and fits each order to the individual team and athlete. “We have standard sizes and sizers that we take out to the teams,” says Rose, who serves as president and CEO of the company. “With the help of coaches or parents, we actually have the athletes try on the uniforms.” 

Customizing uniforms means working with local mills that are able to provide smaller amounts of raw goods than off-shore manufacturers with large minimum orders, says Rose.

“In the sports world, there are about 19 different colors, and it takes about nine different types of fabric to produce the gamut of athletic uniforms. That’s a ton of fabric,” says Rose. “Most mills require that you buy a dye lot, which is somewhere around 1,000 yards. I started out with mills that were producing goods in the U.S. because I could buy a roll of an individual fabric, which was about 100 yards.”

With assistance from the city of Snellville’s economic development department, which helped her locate manufacturing space and offered incentives to stay in Gwinnett County, Rose was able to keep her business local as well. She relocated and expanded the company’s facilities this past fall.

Educational and networking opportunities offered through Partnership Gwinnett have been instrumental in providing Rose with the tools to diversify and form relationships with several sellers of uniforms and activewear, resulting in a 42 percent increase in sales in the past 12 months alone.

Twenty-three years after the challenge that changed the course of her life from high school teacher to athletic apparel designer and manufacturer, Rose says her biggest challenge is finding trained employees for her growing operation. She is currently working with Gwinnett Tech to see how they might be able to train a workforce. “Apparel manufacturing is not very big here in Georgia,” she says, “so there has to be a need for that type of training, because we are growing.” – Mary Anne Dunkin

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