- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

GLEN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Successful entrepreneur isn’t usually a term associated with a college freshman conducting business out of a dorm room.

But the term seems appropriate for Keefer Edwards. His handmade apparel business, Keef Co., has gotten more than 1,000 orders and is on track to be available in 15 stores by this summer. Edwards, who grew up in Glen Arbor, runs the company while attending the University of Michigan School of Art and Design in Ann Arbor.

“It was difficult at first but I kind of embrace the chaos now,” Edwards told the Traverse City Record-Eagle ( https://bit.ly/1nNCgzE ). “There’s definitely been some all-nighters trying to balance school and sewing and shipping orders all at once.”

But Edwards, who started the company when he was only 17, couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“Art and design has always been my thing,” he said. “My grandma owned a yarn shop and I spent a lot of time there when I was young, so that was my introduction to textile fiber.”

By seventh grade, Edwards got his first sewing machine - he now has more than 10 - and was teaching himself to sew. He spent his middle school years making and selling sweatshirts to friends.

Edwards was about to start his senior year of high school when he had the idea to make a backpack out of a colorful piece of fabric. He formed Keef Co. when he realized how much he enjoyed the process.

“It was the perfect way to do what I love every single day,” he said.

Edwards has since used colorful fabrics to make everything from tote bags to pillow cases to apparel. He has limited his current product selection to hats, wallets and beanies.

“I really want to get the simple things down perfectly before we start moving to bigger products,” he said. “Backpacks take up a lot of space so it was tricky.”

Edwards does most of the sewing out of his dorm room, though he does have a studio in Empire and recieves help from contract sewers in Manistee. He plans to add co-founder Evan Scheiren and part-time sewer Emma Hawley to the company’s payroll this summer.

“Every day it gets a little bigger but I can still run it out of a dorm room,” he said. “I always dream big, but I’m hoping to have around 5,000 sold by this time next year.”

As the Keef Co. brand evolves, so does the message behind it. He uses the company as a platform to push the importance of buying environmentally friendly, American-made clothes.

“I’m noticing a lot of disgusting facts about the clothing industry,” he said. “Just shipping clothes made in China to America is one of the largest sources of pollution. We’re trying to use the brand to open the eyes of people who might not know how harmful it can be.”

Keef Co. apparel is made locally in either Empire or Manistee, Edwards said. Most products are made from eco-friendly fabrics like cork, or those found at Goodwill or received as donations.

He hopes to someday move his company downstate to Detroit, to do his part in revitalizing that area’s business scene.

“As I grow up I want the company to grow up, too,” he said. “I’m hoping by the time I graduate college I can transition into this full time. There’s not a single aspect of this business that I am not in love with.”

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Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, https://www.record-eagle.com

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