|Words of Wisdom|
"Follow your dreams. The sensible path isn't necessarily the right path."
Annual Handmade Parade, Northminster Presbyterian Church
Jennifer Q. Smith
"I especially appreciate how supportive PNC is of women-owned businesses. They answer all of my questions and take my needs seriously."
A Character-Building Experience
When you step into AvantGarb's downtown Indianapolis studio, you're instantly immersed in a world of whimsy. Bursting with color and comic relief, the space comes alive through the whirring of sewing machines and the buzz of excited designers putting the finishing touches on the hot costumes of the day: a larger-than-life bug-eyed fish, perhaps, or a trio of animated tyrannosaurs.
Since its inception in 1987, AvantGarb has become the go-to resource for college and professional sports teams, and corporations seeking mascot costumes. President Jennifer Smith has led the creation of such characters as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) mascot "J.J. Jumper," the Indianapolis Colts' "Blue" and the Cleveland Cavaliers' "Sir C.C." Her team includes a crew of five full-time employees and a cache of design collaborators who lend their talents as needed. The team does everything from designing the characters to sculpting the heads, making the patterns and sewing, gluing and assembling the final product.
AvantGarb itself was a long time in the making. "My dream was to create costumes for avant garde theater, but the market was almost nonexistent," explains Jennifer, an artist whose fabric design talent emerged in Seattle with a group called Friends of the Rag. "My wearable art pieces were exhibited in a show titled 'Clothes' at The Museum of Modern Art when I lived in New York City. Then I moved to Berkeley, where I made costumes for 'Beach Blanket Babylon' (the longest-running musical revue in theater history) and took on freelance work."
It was there Jennifer's epiphany struck. "I got a call asking if I could make a chocolate-chip-cookie costume," she explains. "The costume was a tremendous hit, making the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. I realized I might be able to build a business creating mascots."
Jennifer moved her successful new venture, AvantGarb, from her Berkeley garage to Indianapolis in 1988.
Solid Support and Diversification
About 10 years into her business -- and about nine years after moving AvantGarb from her Berkeley garage to Indianapolis -- Jennifer approached PNC predecessor National City for a business loan. The bank's approval was the beginning of what has become a long-term relationship.
"I have an extraordinary relationship with my banker, and the branch representatives are terrific," says Jennifer. "They know my business, and they understand how to get things done. I especially appreciate how supportive PNC is of women-owned businesses. They answer all of my questions and take my needs seriously."
Jennifer also has a great relationship with David Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic, who offers mascot training programs that complement AvantGarb's offerings. "We support all aspects of our customers' 'mascotdom,' including training their personnel to be outstanding mascots," says Jennifer, who commits to exceeding customer expectations with every assignment.
Jennifer is also dedicated to expanding AvantGarb's client base and profitability. Her recent launch of rental subsidiary To Go Costumes is attracting an entirely different clientele -- individuals and companies looking to celebrate special occasions in costume. "It began as a fun addition, but I look for To Go to become a profit center as well," says Jennifer. "People love costumes, and we give them plenty of opportunities to enjoy them."