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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

The scramble

Neither partner had a background in making apparel, so there was a learning curve. "One of my neighbors ran production for a brand, and I asked him if he had any sock manufacturers and he did," Pawling said. "There was a gentleman at a community college in North Carolina who trained people how to manufacture socks. He spent hours talking with me."

Those conversations began in May 2010, and the business had products in stores by December, but not without problems. The first socks were so tight that people couldn't get them on their feet. Initial packaging was also a problem.

"We tried to create this box that ended up getting destroyed when it was being put back on and off the rack in store," Pawling said. "And when you don't have high sell-through, like at one retailer, they don't work with you for a long period of time. It's like 'We tested you, it didn't work, we're moving on.' "

The partnership

With better manufacturing and revamped packaging, Richer Poorer improved to $1 million in sales in its third year of operations, compared with just $270,000 in its first full year. The partners added products, and socks are now less than 50 percent of sales. The partnership with Morse, whose title is president, was a big factor, Pawling said.

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"Every new product that we've introduced, even bralettes, have been his idea," she said. "He is the one that's constantly seeing things in the market and saying 'We should run in that direction.' "

"I am much more operational. I like the blocking and tackling, the process side of the business," Pawling said.

Failed strategy

In 2015, believing that the company needed a strategic partner to move to the next level, Richer Poorer was sold to Shoes.com for $12 million in cash and stock. Pawling and Morse stayed on after the acquisition. But soon the two discovered that Shoes.com was hemorrhaging and laying off workers.

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