Posted: Sep 30, 2012 9:22 AM
Updated: Sep 30, 2012 9:22 AM
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) After serving in the Navy and several years in the high-stress world of air traffic control, Corey Risper wanted a new course.
He moved back to Corpus Christi, where he once was assigned at the Naval Air Station, and was working odd jobs when he came across a box of his old flight charts.
The find would have him taxiing toward takeoff in an entrepreneurial career he never imagined.
"Fashion designer was not on my radar," Risper, 39, said with a laugh.
It was 2009.
Risper played around with the maps and charts and got an idea: Bags, totes and backpacks with map-themed designs.
A seamstress made his vision reality.
But it wasn't practical.
Even with his friends sending him discarded charts from across the country, he'd need tons of maps to make the idea work.
He also had approach plates he studied as a student pilot. The plates are diagrams giving pilots the name of a city, runway locations, approach angles and where and how tall obstructions are when landing.
The result is a complex network of numbers marking degrees and heights, dots, triangles and nearby airfields.
"For pilots, they were functional," Risper said. "I looked at them and said they can be way bigger than that."
He took a plate for Corpus Christi's air space and had it silk screened onto a T-shirt. When he picked up his prototype, "that's when the wheels started turning," he said.
Pilots use the plates daily to land airplanes. The old plates would now get a second life as a fashion centerpiece.
The Corey Risper clothing line was born.
He pitched the idea to former Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center Director Richard Bell, who accepted him into the business incubator's program in 2009.
"It was really, really nice because it gave me access to other resources I wouldn't have had on my own," Risper said.
Those resources were tools to help him form a business plan, understand the financial side of running a business and learn what it takes to bring money and jobs to the area.
He also got a patent attorney to help navigate his startup through infancy with items including an all-important copyright. There also was checking with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure there were no issues with using obsolete maps.
"All of the research I've done, all the feedback I've gotten ... everything suggests this is going to be a big, big clothing brand," Risper said.
The line was unveiled on a runway at an American Bank Center fashion show in 2010.
Risper recently picked up his first retailer, Benjamin's, which has devoted an interior table to his shirts, hung a sign displaying his logo and created a storefront display at La Palmera.
Nell Thompson, with Benjamin's, said Risper's designs achieve something others only have attempted with a simple one-color scheme that comes off complex and authentic.
"There's something about these shirts that are different and way cooler than that," Thompson said. "It just comes off looking cleaner. It's got more edge to it."
As word spreads, orders rise. An air traffic control flight school in Oklahoma City ordered 200 shirts for its students.
Risper said he is most surprised by the reaction of non-aviators. He will keep pitching to other retailers and expanding the brand from T-shirts to long sleeves and sweatshirts.
The design is what will keep his business in steep ascent, he said. Even to the untrained eye, the approach plates speak a universal language. Shirts for Corpus Christi, Houston or San Diego have the same symbols but are arranged in different patterns.
That quality lets people decide where his business grows, he said.
"That's why I can say with confidence this will compete with major brands because I'm everywhere," Risper said.
Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com