Startup that makes clothing for amputees moving its headquarters to Richmond

No Limbits sells jeans for men and women, called Amp Pant, designed for amputees and featuring zippers to make them easier to put on and take off. (Courtesy of No Limits)

After getting a taste of Richmond during a startup accelerator program last year, an Iowa-born startup with a niche apparel product is making Shockoe Bottom its home base.

No Limbits, which designs and sells jeans for amputees, plans to open its headquarters at 1717 Innovation Center on East Cary Street later this year.

Owner Erica Cole, 26, founded the company in Iowa in early 2019, inspired by losing a leg in a car crash a year earlier.

Erica Cole

After receiving a prosthesis, she used her lifelong sewing skills to alter her own clothes while adjusting to her new life. In its early days, the company offered decorative covers for prostheses and evolved to make jeans with zippers on the legs to more easily circumvent prostheses.

She first started the company while earning a degree in chemistry at the University of Iowa, where she entered a business pitch competition. Her efforts reached a turning point in the summer of 2020 when Cole entered an incubator program run by Target. It was then that she decided to put her career in chemistry aside to pursue No Limbits full-time.

“I felt like there was something there and something I would regret not pursuing,” she said. “It was just a curiosity, a calling. I don’t know what to call it. I said screw that stability and let’s go chaotic.

The passage in the Target incubator reinforced the profile of the company. Parents of children with sensory processing disorders have asked if the company makes clothing for adults, prompting the company’s upcoming launch of the new line this winter. Garments are made without seams or tags and are moisture wicking.

There are plans for additional clothing lines that cater to other types of physical challenges as well, including a clothing line for wheelchair users slated for the fall.

Factors that went into creating amputee clothing included thinking about the placement of zippers for ease of use and fabric reinforcements to manage the extra wear and tear that prostheses can cause.

“The way it’s designed now is to make a goalkeeper’s life easier. We’re looking at how to make (life easier for) the person wearing it,” Cole said. “How not to aggravate the problem and how to think about the independence of this person? »

Cole got to know Richmond as part of Lighthouse Labs’ Fall 2021 Accelerator class. No Limbits was one of eight companies to participate in the early-stage startup program.

During the week-long in-person segment of the session, Cole came to see Richmond as a great place to grow her business in a location she found personally attractive.

“I was looking for a community of startups. Sounds generic, but I knew I would find something and found it in Richmond. I was here for a week in Richmond and fell in love with the neighborhood and the restaurants,” she said.

Cole noted the proximity to Washington, D.C. and the relative affordability of the Richmond area as reasons why Richmond made sense for the new home base.

At the time of the Lighthouse Labs program, Cole was based in Iowa and she has since moved to St. Louis.

“I was fully prepared to move to where the business was most suitable,” she said.

The company has five part-time remote employees. Cole hopes to fill two planned full-time positions with workers in the Richmond area.

The company designs the garments in-house and contracts with a manufacturer in Bangladesh. She sells her clothes through her online store.

Cole designs the garments in coordination with medical professionals and people with direct experience of disabilities. Cole finds his advisers through a combination of networking through Facebook groups and support groups as well as cold calling.

“Many are willing to advise for free because there really aren’t that many options,” she said.

Prior to his move, Cole said No Limbits would be featured in an episode of “Shark Tank” which airs in early April. She was mum on the details before the episode premiered, but said the show asked her to apply after producers saw a Kickstarter campaign she started for No Limbits.

“They had the official email address, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take a call,'” she said. “It took a long time (to prepare) and it was really stressful until this shoot.”

Cole said she was able to call on the mentors she met through Lighthouse Labs to prepare for the episode, which was filmed in September 2021.

“Standing in front of these experts was the ultimate test of ‘Can you do this?'” she said.

Armed with $400,000 from a capital raise last month, Cole said the company will put 35,000 garments into production in April to sell in the following months.

She said a non-profit organization recently placed an order for clothing to distribute to patients from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and there are plans to make the company’s jeans available for purchase in 1,600 prosthetic clinics on a 12-month rollout starting in August.

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