MORGANTOWN — Chris Yura was living with his parents in 2009, when he came up with a concept to start his own business.
Self-taught, it took a lot of hard work to get his sustainable clothing company — SustainU — off the ground.
Recently, SustainU was acquired by Coalfield Development, a nonprofit that works to make the Appalachian economy more diverse. It is based on Wayne County.
Yura plans to stay with the company as director of SustainU, under the Coalfield Development organization.
“Coalfield is an appropriate partner for SustainU. We both are mission-driven for making opportunities in Appalachia and it just made so much sense for us to combine our sources and to really try to grow sustainability and job creation in the Mountain State,” he said.
He said Brandon Dennison, CEO of Coalfield Development, is a great leader and he is excited to be part of the organization. Yura thinks both companies have grown to a point that coming together made a lot of sense for both of them.
Yura’s focus is growing the professional license sports portion of the business.
“The role is a little different, but it’s more aligned with areas I feel I’m strongest in and stuff that I like to do,” said Yura.
The company will still have a presence in Morgantown, maintaining sales and marketing. In Huntington, a new facility is being built where printing and shipping will be handled.
In a press release circulated by Coalfield Development, Dennison said, “We know that in order for new markets to emerge out of central Appalachia, we need to get local products exported to bigger areas. This acquisition helps advance such a strategy.”
Coalfield Development looks to expand its footprint nationally with products that can help create jobs. That, along with the desire to grow the SustainU brand and focus on the social enterprise of the business, Yura said, made the joint venture perfect.
“I think, for West Virginia particularly, it’s just a great combination and our hope is to represent our state as we expand SustainU and Coalfield Development organization and really create economic diversity here and showcase some new technology that the Mountain State’s producing,” said Yura.
In 2016, SustainU became a licensee of Major League Baseball, with licensed apparel available across the country. Yura said for his company to be competitive in that market, it not only had to create a great product but have different ways to engage consumers.
To keep up with fast-pased demand, Yura created the Shirt Interactive Kiosk that allows fans to purchase commemorative game-specific apparel in real time.
This new interactive technology was introduced during the New York Yankee’s spring training this year, and will roll out to the league as a whole in 2019.
“We were fortunate enough to use kind of our niche to get into licensing contracts with Major League Baseball, which helps elevate the brand quite a bit,” said Yura.
Yura said it’s been a lot of trial and error to get to this point. Setting the company apart from others is that SustainU “sustainably manufactures 100 percent recycled knitwear in the U.S.
“For me, it’s something that I feel like, as an organization with Coalfield and SustainU, we really kind of combined to make a dynamic business that not only is creating opportunities for individuals but is also really looking at retail in a different light than anybody else in the country,” he said.