In the summer of 2014, Kevin Ames and Mathew Wilmer decided to start a landscaping business to earn some extra cash. The twenty-year-olds were each headed into their junior years of college (Loyola for Wilmer, Towson University for Ames), and after their first venture paid off, they wondered what else they might team up on. They had enjoyed working and solving problems together and received a great reception as newly minted businessmen. Rather than wait to finish school, they dove right into their next idea: an apparel line celebrating the Chesapeake Bay, where they both grew up vacationing and exploring. Chesapeake Collection features a casual, self-described “Mid-Atlantic preppy” offering of hats, t-shirts and long sleeve tees. Chesapeake Collection reads as a familiar nod to established nautical-preppy brands like Vineyard Vines, but in this case, with the inclusion of locally based talent.
To add to their allure, Ames and Wilmer decided right away that if they were going to create a business surrounding a natural resource as volatile as the Bay, it was only right to help preserve it. They vowed to donate a portion of annual sales to The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a non-profit which serves to protect and recover the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding watershed. Chesapeake Collection donated an initial $2500 to the non-profit in 2016, to demonstrate a long-term commitment to the cause, and Ames and Wilmer — now 23-year-old college graduates and fully absorbed by the business — say they hope to give more each year, as their business grows.
The two agreed to answer some questions about how the business runs, and what made them start it in the first place from their studio in Hunt Valley.
When did you know you would be good business partners?
We met the summer before our junior year at Calvert Hall High School, when we both played for the rugby team. We both played the same position, so we worked together nearly every day at practice, and bonded. We remained friends through high school and college. We started our own landscaping business in the summer of 2014, and people just liked who we were as businessmen, and we would often have repeat customers. We wanted to find something to do long-term.
You have largely had to learn to run a business while doing it. How has the experience been, of learning as you go?
That’s honestly been the best part about this experience. We’ve had to learn how to do every aspect of a company. The experience we have now is invaluable, something you can’t replicate in a college classroom. We’re always on the move, driving to different places, and making new connections. We have met so many different people, and quite a few of them have mentored us throughout the process (investors, the board of directors, vendors and retail owners we work with, etc.), all of whom have taught us valuable lessons in business, and life in general. We’re excited to carry this into the future. Looking back, it’s been nice to use what we were taught in our business, marketing, PR and advertising classes, and applying them to our business practices.
What are some of your influences for the look of Chesapeake Collection? Who do you think of as your main customer?
Our brand has a great combination of a lot of these nautical New England and Southern apparel brands. We take everything we like about them and build it into our brand. We like to describe ourselves as “Mid-Atlantic preppy.” We’d say our customer(s) are a family. Two parents, both male and female and children, typically in high school and college. People who live a vibrant lifestyle, and have a lot of Bay pride. They enjoy the lifestyle portrayed by our brand, which includes boating, fishing, crabbing, paddle boarding, going to the beach and more.
Did I read somewhere that you donate money to foundations supporting the Bay cleanup? Can you discuss that?
Yes! We actually just formalized our partnership with The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We donate a portion of our annual sales to its efforts. Last year, we donated $2500, as an introductory gift that would reflect our long-term commitment to them. You can’t have a brand centered around the Bay, and not donate to the very thing that inspired you in the first place.
What parts of the business do you each do? Are the tasks really defined, or do you both do a little of everything?
We both do a little bit of everything, as each of us handles working with different vendors and retail owners, as well as posting on social media. Matt usually works on new designs and with our suppliers, and graphic designers get our products into production. Kevin usually handles online orders, bookkeeping, organizing files, and communication aspects. Both of us come together for long-term planning and key decisions. We also travel to each new potential retailer, and any other business opportunity, together.
In what field did you each get a degree?
Matt has Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and Marketing from Loyola. Kevin has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communication, with a concentration on Public Relations, Advertising and Organizational Communication from Towson University.
What parts of producing the line do you hire out for?
As of right now, social media and web design are handled in-house, by the two of us. Screen printing and apparel sourcing are handled by our screen printer (we cannot say who). We have our own private graphic designer who is local. We also use local photographers, often friends of ours, for photo shoots when new products are released, or we when need more social media content.
If you weren’t running a business together, what would the backup plan be? Any alternate career dreams?
Matt: I’ve always wanted to be a musician or producer. If not that, I would try another entrepreneurial venture. I love bringing ideas and concepts to life.
Kevin: I love creative writing, so it would be awesome to write films and novels. I also have a passion for making barbecue, so I’ve always thought about opening my own smokehouse or brewpub.
What is the best thing about Maryland?
What’s not to love? We love our sports teams, the food is great, and there are so many different activities always nearby (fishing, hunting, boating, skiing and snowboarding, going to the beach, going to a sporting event, so much.)
What are your own connections to the Chesapeake Bay? What made it worth celebrating with an entire business?
Matt: Both of my uncles live on the Eastern Shore, and routinely take me fishing and crabbing. Growing up, I just enjoyed activities on the water with family.
Kevin: I’m from Jacksonville, MD, so the Bay isn’t exactly in the backyard, but I visit places like Annapolis and St. Michael’s often, whether it’s for a fishing trip or just to walk around town. It would be awesome to live in Annapolis or on the Eastern Shore some day.
As far as part two of the question goes, it’s just a large part of our history and our culture. There’s nothing else like it in the country. It essentially gives the DelMarVa area its culture. People who live in this region have so much pride in where they’re from, and we’re glad we’ve created a brand that embodies it.
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