Chris Reams

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Sailing the Seas of Business

 

Chris Reams, CEO of Skip N’ Whistle, is a self-proclaimed creative and restless spirit. Originally from Savannah, Ga., he moved to New Orleans in 1988 when his dad became a New Orleans Customs Inspector. He started the company in 2000 — then called Ichabods — but the company folded after Hurricane Katrina. Reams soon rebranded the company as Skip N’ Whistle and continued making t-shirts.

“I’ve got a million ideas a day, and that’s before breakfast,” Reams says. “Graphic apparel design has been the perfect canvas for getting those ideas out into the world. For example, 17 years ago I started designing and printing t-shirts. I’ve always approached t-shirt and apparel design with one mission in mind: [to] start a fun conversation. Graphic tees were the gateway into the world of fashion, and now we offer so much more than tees.”

Sure enough, Skip N’ Whistle has expanded a lot in the past two years. No longer is the company solely in the business of t-shirts. “We’ve built the only professional sewing factory in Louisiana that specializes in high-end yoga leggings, custom sublimation sports jerseys and our KOA-BAN headbands,” Reams says. “Our goal is to create 100 full-time sewing jobs over the next two years. The demand for custom team apparel is great. Every local sports team wears custom jerseys, and 98 percent of those jerseys are made in Asia. There’s no reason for local sports teams to send work out of the country when they can get things made faster and better in their own backyard. The trick right now for our sewing business is scaling production to meet demand. We have to train the workers to handle the orders before we get them, and we need to have the orders coming in to keep the workers employed. Scaling properly is a science, and we’re happy where we are headed.”

Skip N’ Whistle recently launched a new headwear line called KOA-BAN that are lightweight, seamless, moisture-wicking and offer built-in UV protection. The line originally started as a way to use excess fabric scraps from cutting and sewing custom leggings. “We made a bunch of headbands from the scrap material and started to run out,” Reams says. “We decided that it was more efficient and cost effective to switch to a special performance polyester made from recycled plastic bottles. We design and print the most unique, eco-friendly and functional headbands in the country, and they are all made in Louisiana.”

The focus on being an environmentally friendly company is important to Reams, and he likes to take an active role in making positive effects on the world. “Each year more than 70 million barrels of oil are used to create polyester fibers used in fabric,” he says. “I can take a passive approach to how my money is spent or take an active approach and try to make difference. So often it seems like we are shouting into the void, but I like the story about the starfish on the beach. I may not be able to save them all, but, if I can make even the smallest difference, it’s worth a try.”

Skip N’ Whistle offers a ton of different designs, and more designs are always being released. The company also has been creating a lot of custom KOA-BANs for sports teams, festivals and organizations like the Steve Gleason Foundation, KOCC kickball league, Hogs for the Cause, Bayou Boogaloo and more. “We’re also teaming up with some great local artists to put their paintings on our headbands,” Reams says. “We are always looking for opportunities to team up with likeminded people.”

Reams is the primary designer, but his team also contributes ideas that get added to the products. “We use an eco-friendly, water-based printing method that allows us to print any graphic you can imagine,” he says. “We are not limited to line drawings like in screen printing. One of my favorite designs in a closeup photo I took from the bark on a cypress tree.”

In addition to working as the primary designer, Reams likes to stay challenged and busy. Running a business takes care of that for him. He says he fails often, but that is how one continues to learn. “Smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors,” he says. “I measure success by the lessons I learn. Mistakes will happen, and expensive mistakes are the tuition of life. As an entrepreneur, one must be able to compartmentalize and not dwell on anything negative for too long. Success is so much sweeter when it’s earned rather than given. The harder you fight for something, the more you’ll appreciate it. In order to be successful in business, you have to be prepared to do battle every day for the things you believe in. In the end, you get the life you believe you deserve.” skipnwhistle.com, koa-ban.com