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How I Made It: This entrepreneur went from rags to socks and underwear riches

Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Iva Pawling, 36, is chief executive of Richer Poorer, a San Juan Capistrano, Calif., apparel company founded in 2010. Richer Poorer's T-shirts, bralettes, socks and sweats are sold at more than 900 retailers around the world. Pawling and co-founder Tim Morse have owned the company twice, having sold it and then bought it back to rescue it from bankruptcy. The company has 36 employees and is expecting a record $10 million in revenue for 2018.

Early fashionista

Pawling and her older sister, Gorjana, were keenly interested in fashion while growing up in Scottsdale, Ariz., but opportunities for filling their closets were few. "We were always obsessed with brands and clothing, but it was this thing that we could not attain," Pawling said. "My parents were typical immigrants. It was, just hoard your money. You don't spend it on things like that."

In spades

After graduating with a degree in communications from Arizona State University, Pawling used what she learned to land her dream job in New York with fashion designer Kate Spade, ending up in the public relations department. It gave her a crash course in the industry. "You would start as a part-time receptionist for half the day," Pawling said. "The other half of the day, you would bounce around from department to department so that you could really understand the full scope of how a fashion brand works."

Strong women

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Pawling later worked in public relations for Bennet Group Strategic Communications in Hawaii, having followed her husband, Andrew, there during his military career. Again, she worked primarily on fashion. Then her sister had started her own eponymous jewelry brand, and Pawling went to work for her. "I think working for Kate, Joan Bennet, who ran the Hawaii firm, and my sister very much contributed to the belief that I could do it, too."

Spinning an idea

Inspiration to start a business can come from unusual sources, like from your indoor cycling instructor. Tim Morse, the teacher, turned into a business partner, starting with socks.

"Everyone started dressing down. Nobody was wearing ties anymore, and socks were a great way to kind of differentiate," Pawling said. "Our belief was that this could be a great business model and nobody had seen it yet -- or this was a terrible business model and there's a reason nobody's doing this."

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