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Kitsbow apparel brand becomes employee owned

Published January 6, 2022

OLD FORT, N.C. (BRAIN) — With the assistance of a group of North Carolina investors, Kitsbow employees have purchased the majority shares of the cycling apparel brand after 10 years of private ownership.

Kitsbow, which has 55 employees, made the announcement Thursday after the purchase was completed on Monday.

"I think this is a tremendous outcome for the company, the team, and for the community — all of whom have created something quite special," said Kitsbow founder Zander Nosler. "I'm thrilled that the company is moving forward even more aligned with our founding values, including allowing the people who do this incredible work to have a true stake in the company."

Nosler will continue as an advisor with Kitsbow.

Seeking employee ownership, Kitsbow was incorporated in Delaware as a Public Benefit Corporation. This will empower Kitsbow to embrace "social and public good" of customers and employees, operating in a responsible and sustainable manner, the company said. Diversity and inclusion also are other values of a PBC.

"When the opportunity to buy the brand and all of its assets became available, the employee leadership was unanimous in doing so as a public benefit corporation, and immediately starting the process for certification as a B Corp as well," said David Billstrom, the CEO of Kitsbow, who will hold the same title in the new organization. "We have been embracing social and public good since we landed in North Carolina to make clothes, so it was a natural step to make."

Billstrom, who published a blog post Thursday about the news, will report to a new board of directors structured to be inclusive, diverse, and representative of the Old Fort community as well as the employees. Board members will be announced soon.

Kitsbow relocated from California to this small town east of Asheville at the end of 2019. Four months later, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Kitsbow pivoted to manufacturing personal protective equipment — masks and face shields — for first-responders and medical personnel. The company has doubled in size and provided Old Fort some of its first new jobs during the 30-year economic decline as an industrial town.

In 2021, Kitsbow halted selling offshore-made clothes, dedicating its future to jobs in the U.S. It also opened the Ride House in 2020, which includes a visitors center, cafe, bike shop, changing rooms, and the only retail Kitsbow location. Kitsbow also is active with trail construction in the Old Fort area.

"We are beginning the new year with a bang, not only with employee ownership but also with a pledge to sell apparel only made in the United States," said Jessie Inglis, director of production for Kitsbow and one of the senior leaders of the company. "We sold the last of our offshore-made apparel at the end of last year, and from now on, other than gloves and socks, all of our apparel will be made in the U.S. It is truly a very new year."

Terms of the sale, price, and the identity of the new local investors are not being disclosed at this time. Kitsbow Apparel, PBC, will continue to do business under the brand name Kitsbow Cycling Apparel.

Topics associated with this article: Mergers, Acquisitions & Investments

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