When Matt and Elise Holmes went to Italy in May of 2016, they would have never guessed that along with memories from a fun vacation, they would come home to Minturn with a new business plan. Days of rain as the two sat in their hotel room overlooking the Mediterranean led to more than cabin fever, however, as Elise's longtime hobby led to what would become the first design for Vela Apparel, the clothing company that the duo would launch upon their return to Colorado. "When we were in Italy we had a lot of rain, and we were of cooped up in our Airbnb, but it was just perfect because we could see the Mediterranean and it just felt so appropriate to draw the whale," she remembers, referring to one of her signature sketches. "I posted it on social media and got a lot of great feedback, and we decided that that was our inspiration." The two drove around the Italian countryside, trying to figure out how to curate a clothing brand that incorporated Elise's designs, but also stayed true to their Minturn roots. Daunting as it may seem, their international locale proved to be a catalyst. "When we’re traveling we’re really at our brightest," says Matt, who balances Elise's creativity with the more logistical side of the business. "We got back from this two-week trip and we had about half a dozen drawings and a whole business plan."
Once back stateside, they visited Avon-based Trick Threads to start screen printing the array of animals Elise had sketched in her notepad onto colorful cottons, which they recently started sourcing through a Denver company that incorporates recyclable material into the fabric. "Something like six plastic bottles go into the shirt as opposed to the landfill, so the color comes mostly from the bottles that were recycled, or they add natural dyes for a few of the more vibrant colors." And while the colorful t-shirts, tank tops, and hoodies adorned with uniquely sketched creatures ("They're my friends and family's spirit animals," jokes Elise) were a hit at the couple's booth at this summer's Minturn Farmer's Market, they're adding more gear and apparel to their online store for the fall and winter, including baseball hats (with Elise's original watercolors sublimated on them), coffee cups, a line of throw blankets, and pint-sized gear for infants. And while they don't find themselves overlooking the Mediterranean anymore when it comes to inspiration, the valley—home to locally born outerwear brands like SKEA Limited and SYNC Performance —has been similarly conducive to building their business. "There's something about this valley that makes you want to make something permanent and leave your mark on the world," explains Matt. "And you’re rubbing elbows with other people who are starting their own things all the time, and everyone’s seeing what everyone else is doing, and it’s very encouraging — it’s a big community."