The Sparks couple faced the latter need while attending their first Burning Man festival in 2008. During several of the nights on the playa they nearly froze, Eastwick said, which set her to work right away.
“As soon as I got back I started making coats,” she said.
That was to become the seed from which their business, OffBeat Wear, would grow. A lifelong seamstress, Eastwick combined her artistic side and her entrepreneurial side. With the help of her husband, she slowly began taking orders for the furry garb that is associated with Burning Man’s nonconformist spirit.
The water that fed the seed — and the second of the two necessities — was the lack of a job. After dabbling their toes into the OffBeat venture for about a year, Eastwick lost her job in September 2009 and Underwood lost his IT job shortly before that. Since the 34-year-old Eastwick never really liked the various office jobs she had held since high school, this was the opportunity for her to turn something she loved to do into something she loved to do while making money.
So, they each took their strengths — hers in sewing and creativity, his in website design and computer know-how — and poured all their hearts, time and savings into OffBeat. Between Burning Man 2008 and 2009, with limited advertising, they received about 20 orders for their custom-made coats. But in September 2009, when they didn’t have other jobs taking up their time, the couple launched a revamped website and began advertising on Google. They got a few orders each month until June, when the orders started pouring in faster than Eastwick could sew. Over the summer, she estimates that she made about 90 coats for Burning Man customers.
While they enjoy the laid-back attitude of the festival, Eastwick and Underwood have put a lot of thought into the economics of the free spirit. For example, they did homework on others who make similar furry clothing and found that the prices are marked up far higher than they need to be. Eastwick said the materials are expensive, but after factoring in those costs plus costs for her labor, she found prices in the $250 to $350 range to be reasonable as opposed to the $600-plus charged by others.
“I don’t like how the market prices things,” Underwood said. “Some people charge what the market will bear, but I don’t like what the market will bear. ... It’s just gouging after a point.”
“They’re a lot more expensive,” Eastwick added. “I don’t consider them competition.”
While customers are willing to pay higher prices for specialty clothing, it also means meeting their exacting demands. Prism Magic and Clothing on Pyramid Way is another business that capitalizes on the Burning Man customer base and co-owner Lauren Gifford has been selling to burners for the past four years. She recently asked Eastwick to sell some of her products there on consignment, which paid off in a matter of hours.
“I pursued her since about January for a rack of locally made products,” Gifford said. “She brought in a coat and it sold in two hours.”
In addition to offering better prices to picky patrons, customer service is another point on which the couple are adamant. Eastwick said she follows up every order with a phone call to make sure the garment fits properly. She also offers “playa pickup” so customers can get their item at Burning Man.
To top it off, she brings her spare sewing machine to the event to make adjustments or fix “wardrobe malfunctions” in the desert.
“Customer service is a lost art,” Underwood said.
“They’ll tell their friends,” Eastwick added.
Friend and customer Patience Walton is active in the motorcycle scene and encouraged Eastwick to check out some of the websites on which she had purchased chaps and shorts. Walton said she has watched her friend interact with her customers and knows first-hand that Eastwick makes high-
“It’s a lot higher quality than a lot of the stuff I’ve seen and when you get the quality it lasts longer, mostly for the prices that you pay,” said Walton, a 34-year-old accountant's assistant who lives in Sparks.
With more solid business ground now under them, Eastwick and Underwood are thinking about expanding their product line to meet other niches, such as at the Street Vibrations motorcycle rally and Santa Pub Crawl in December.
“I’m pretty optimistic that we’re going to be crazy this year,” Eastwick said. “It was so much busier this year than it was last year. Especially with the word of mouth now I think it’s going to be pretty big. I’m putting Scott to work.”
To see the OffBeat Wear product line, visit www.offbeatwear.com.