Kevin Ames and Matt Wilmer, two high school buddies from Baltimore County who just finished college, haven’t had to wonder what they’re going to do after graduation. They’re taking their successful clothing company on the road.
Since their junior years at Towson University and Loyola University Maryland, respectively, Ames and Wilmer have been running a high-end clothing company based on the Chesapeake Bay lifestyle. Chesapeake Collection features preppy ties and belts, as well as hats and T-shirts that feature crabs, fishing boats and standup paddleboarders. The company’s founders, both 23, say they grew up loving the Bay, fishing, crabbing and boating with family and friends in Ocean City and on Middle River.
“We noticed that Maryland is a state that has a lot of pride– there’s the Ravens, Orioles and Natty Boh beer. But we wanted to take that pride a step further,” says Kevin, “and expand it to the Bay.”
That’s what inspired the two young men to come up with their crab design, and it took off right away. They sold their first shirts at the Towsontown Spring Festival. And just six months later, they’d landed space at a handful of retailers, including the well-established Cohen’s Clothiers.
Unlike many business start-ups, Chesapeake Collection wasted no time in giving back. The company has aligned itself with the crucial cause of Bay conservation, developing a relationship with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Last year, Ames and Wilmer donated $1.00 for every shirt they sold—which added up to $2,500 to help clean up the Bay.
“The Bay is our brand,” Kevin explains.
Matt adds, “so we’re going to champion it in every way we can.”
And as their success continues, Ames and Wilmer have made the Chesapeake Collection into full-time jobs. By this fall the brand will be sold in five to seven retail stores, from Berlin, Maryland to Severna Park, to Baltimore County, including Smyth Jewelers.
Ames and Wilmer count Tom Smyth, the jewelry store’s owner, and Cohen’s owner Gilbert Cohen, as mentors in their growing business.
But when the two young men started out in 2014, they knew no one in the clothing industry. They learned how to license their LLC with the state of Maryland. They ordered a slew of T-shirt samples from various screen printers, in a process of trial and error. Their start-up funds came from their summer jobs as landscapers, and borrowing on a family credit card. In just a few months, Ames and Wilmer were able to “pay themselves back.”
Now, the ambitious young men are looking bigger: their next goal is to take the brand that they say “embodies the traditions of the Chesapeake Bay” beyond the state of Maryland.
To see Chesapeake Collection’s products, click here.