Steamboat Springs local’s passion leads to new clothing business
Steamboat Springs — When Melissa Dow moved to Steamboat Springs six years ago from New Hampshire, little did she know her passion would turn into a career.
The idea for her business, One Leaf — a company that specializes in handmade women’s clothing for layering — started with her frustration of constantly having to wear long camisoles under shirts or tank tops due to her long-torso body shape.
“I figured if I was having this problem, so were others,” Dow said. “I couldn’t find anywhere to buy a shirt-extender-type accessory, so one day I thought, Why don’t I just make it myself?”
She started making stretchy bands that fit snugly around her hips using recycled clothing. At first, the design and fabric were rough and looked handmade.
But two years ago, something clicked, and she began to streamline her process to create professionally made “fender bender shirt extenders,” or “f.bse” for short.
“Melissa has gone from working jobs she wasn’t passionate about to taking this on as a full-time endeavor,” said Lauren Brown, who has known Dow for about three years and is a fan of her fenders. “She is the type of person that has that passion and drive to make it happen because building this on her own takes a lot of courage, effort and hard work.”
The fenders now have evolved into layering pieces that are reversible and contain a hidden pocket for stashing cash, licenses and keys. The versatile piece is primarily worn with leggings but also can go together with maxi skirts and jeans. The fabric is a cotton-spandex blend that provides a snug fit and is also comfortable.
“Living an active mountain lifestyle, you find yourself in leggings and long underwear year-round,” said Danielle Zimmerer, a fan of the fenders. “It adds a cute layer to your outfit that can take you out of the gym into your errands.”
Inheriting a creative streak from her mother, a painter, and her father, a finish carpenter, Dow had ideas for patterns or colors to use for the fenders, but she didn’t have a background in sewing.
Teaching herself through trial and error, with a few tips from her mother and friends at Sew Steamboat, she soon learned how to sew.
“She would come in here and use the Serger for hours working on the fenders,” said Lynn Wunder, one of the sewing teachers at Sew Steamboat. “She is really creative and has evolved from that base fender she started with. I really admire young people who go after something like she does because it takes a lot of patience and time.”
Making the decision to focus on her business full-time was difficult at first. Dow had to rely solely on sales at craft shows or art markets to bring in an income, which came with uncertainty at times.
“It’s not easy starting your own business,” Dow said. “There are days when the doubt creeps in, but the way people come into your life at the right moment to provide support has really kept me going.”
Dow has made as many as 100 to 200 bands in a few weeks to get ready for a craft show, but it usually takes her about an hour to make just one.
Since the summer, she has sold about 300 to 400 fenders and has expanded her product line to include custom-made crochet fenders and handmade, functional kimonos with a hood and pockets.
“Her work has evolved a lot and is becoming more and more popular here and all over,” Brown said. “She loves to connect with others on a personal level and get to know what they want for their styles.”
Taking her business to the next level, Dow has come up with a new logo, website and business plan for One Leaf. In January, she plans on coming out with a new selection of fenders that will be available on her website.
“When things get tough, or if I get discouraged because of the uncertainty that comes with starting a business, I have to keep repeating this mantra, ‘Trust … and all is coming’ and truly believe in that,” Dow said.
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It was a love story that brought Jason Erwin to Steamboat Springs from Nashville, Tennessee.