Sardine: It's not exactly a fishy business

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Maryanne Petrus-Gilbert is the owner of Sardine Clothing Co., a Roxborough fashion firm that repurposes old T-shirts into colorful skirts.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Maryanne Petrus-Gilbert is the owner of Sardine Clothing Co., a Roxborough fashion firm that repurposes old T-shirts into colorful skirts.
Posted: August 08, 2013

 MARYANNE Petrus-Gilbert, 42, of Roxborough, started Sardine Clothing Co. in 2008. She scours thrift stores for old T-shirts and sweaters and then repurposes them into applique skirts and cashmere fingerless gloves. She sells the wares at arts-and-crafts fairs, select boutiques, the online marketplace Etsy and by appointment at her 1,200-square-foot sewing studio in Roxborough. In her spare time, she produces jewelry.

Q: How did you start Sardine?

A: I started making my kids' clothes. I was making pants for my son out of T-shirts . . . I went to a thrift store and it had all the colors I could possibly ask for. I love to recycle, use every little bit, and I made the first skirt. Then, my girlfriend was having her 40th birthday party and I made a bunch [of skirts] for them and it eventually became a full-time job.

Q: How about startup money?

A: It was very "seat of my pants." I had one sewing machine, a serger, and I just started making [skirts] in a room in my house. T-shirts are relatively cheap, and I just kept using what I had. Whenever I sold a skirt, I reinvested money back into the business.

Q: How's the biz model work?

A: I'm taking something that's been discarded and recycling it into something new. We use almost every single scrap of fabric so it's not going into a landfill.

Q: What's the backstory behind the company name?

A: My [late] husband said dressing our baby [in 2001] was like stuffing a sardine in a can. The clothes are small and tight-fitted, and babies are squirmy, like little fish.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: Most are women, between 30 and 48, and I'd say 80 percent are teachers. [The skirts] are comfortable, have a pocket, can be worn to school and they engage the kids.

Q: How many items of clothing do you sell each year?

A: Last year, we sold over 1,000, and about 800 were skirts. And the next-best seller are gloves.

Q: What differentiates Sardine from similar businesses?

A: My price point is perfect. The skirts sell for $55 and the gloves are $32. Eco-friendly shouldn't be expensive.

Q: What's been the biggest challenge to growing the business?

A: Growing smartly. It'd be easy for me to take out a loan, hire a bunch of people and just say "do it." Every January, I assess how we did the last year, see what can be improved and then figure out how to make it happen.

Q: How big a business is this?

A: One full-time girl, two girls that are barely part-time and me.

Q: What about revenues?

A: This year, $120,000, that's my goal; I think we're going to hit it. Every year I'm up 25 percent, which is what I'm after.

Q: What's next?

A: I would like to see three or four full-time people working here. I'd like to double the retail stores I'm in. Ideally, I'd like to have my own storefront, and hopefully that's going to happen soon.


" @MHinkelman

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