Michelle Huie’s dad was confused about why she wanted to start her compression sock company, VIM & VIGR.
“I told him I was doing this, and at the time I had a great job and a great salary,” Huie said. “The first thing he said was, ‘Compression socks? You don’t know know how to sew socks.’ He thought I was sewing and producing socks in my living room. He was surprised because I’m not the most savvy when it comes to things like that.”
Since that conversation with her father, Huie’s Missoula based company has taken off to fill a need for fashionable compression socks.
A Fashionable Alternative
In 2011, Huie moved full-time to Montana after her partner began work at the University of Montana in 2007. When she moved to Missoula, Huie traveled as an executive area business manager for her previous job. Professionally the job was great, but Huie said physically it was hard sitting in the car for hours.
“I talked to a friend and he suggested compression socks,” Huie recalled. “I thought of my 98-year-old grandma wearing this nude weird colored product on her leg. But when I did more research there were all these amazing benefits. But the options were catered to people with a medical condition or extreme athletes. There was nothing for the average person.”
After this realization, Huie said she became obsessed with creating a product that was high quality in designs. She partnered with clinics and went to work. In 2013, VIM & VIGR launched.
The Possibilities of the West
When scrolling through its website, vibrant colors and designs jump off the screen. The company initially launched with just socks. This year, VIM & VIGR has released new products including compression leggings and leg sleeves. Huie added the company is also working on releasing a VIM & VIGR product line targeted at the medical community with higher compression products.
Earlier this year, VIM & VIGR was named to Inc.’s 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies. It was ranked 875th and the sixth fastest growing company in Montana. It was the second fastest growing private manufacturing company in the state. Products are currently sold in 1,300 relation locations nationwide and are sold internationally as well.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]One thing that I appreciate about Montana is that you can be however you want to be.[/perfectpullquote]
Huie is a born and bred New Yorker and lived in Chicago while attending school. She admitted she thought of Montana as “an insanely rural place.” But she quickly fell in love with Missoula, Montana and the possibilities of the west.
“One thing that I appreciate about Montana is that you can be however you want to be,” Huie said. “If you want to be that person that works 10 hours a week, there is no judgement. Or if you want to be that person to do a great job and then at 4 p.m. go on a hike, you can do that. There is no judgement. That was one of the most surprising things. You can live the life you want.”
With her business degree in hand from Northwestern University, Huie jumped into her entrepreneurial adventure. After working with clinics, she soon identified a manufacturer in Taiwan. The socks are made on medical grade knitting machines, tested in a compression machine, and once they come to the U.S. they are tested again.
Huie learned the realities of being a business owner early on.
In the first four months, VIM & VIGR sold out 10,000 units. Huie said she thought 10,000 units would last a full year. While this was one of her first successes, she learned tough lessons.
“I had a particular style that was so long it went over the knee and hit the middle of the thigh,” she said. “I donated the product and ate the cost of 1,000 pairs. Since then in 2014, our quality control process is really strict from measurements to the centimeter. We do a lot of testing.”
Falling in Love with Montana
Last year, VIM & VIGR grew. Huie said her staff jumped from 8 employees to 20. The company also moved into a bigger office space in Missoula.
For Huie, Montana was an attractive state to start a business.
“It’s almost easier to start a business here,” she said. “Number one, the community has been amazing in supporting the company and product. There is a large pool of educated and hard working people. I’m not sure if VIM & VIGR would be as successful if it launched in Chicago or New York. We also bootstrapped and the affordability is helpful to bootstrap the company. I’m not sure if I would have started it if I was in a bigger place.”
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]If you’re going to grind, you need a balance. I think we have a natural balance just by looking out the window.[/perfectpullquote]
Huie had visited Seattle, Portland, and even Idaho, but never to Montana until she moved here. She said she was surprised by the cultural community in places like Missoula and the lifestyle offered by living in a university town. Every time she visits a big city, Huie said she’s excited to get back to Montana.
Now as a Montanan, Huie has seen others chose to make Montana home for the same reasons as herself.
“You have a community of really talented and driven people,” she said. “You also have people who are supportive, and on top of that, you have the great outdoors. If you’re going to grind, you need a balance. I think we have a natural balance just by looking out the window. It hits you in the face the type of balance that you have being here. It makes you a better entrepreneur.”
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