Made in the Shade
Inspired by a health scare, this local entrepreneur moved from virtual reality to clothing manufacturer.
During a routine check-up three years ago, entrepreneur Devin Regan was told that what appeared to be a normal freckle was actually Stage 1A melanoma. With that news, his life was forever changed.
After successful treatment and removal of the tumor, Regan decided to change his career focus. Inspired by what he called the overwhelming cases of skin cancer and recurrences he discovered during his own research, Regan decided to sell his shares of his successful startup — a virtual reality entertainment company called Maverick VR — and launch Rayward Apparel in 2020.
Rayward Apparel is a line of sports and performance clothing that offers UPF 50+ protection from the sun. Regan noted that maintaining his own active lifestyle post-diagnosis played a big part in the inspiration behind the creation of the company.
“Fitness and sports have always played a big part in my life, and still do to this day,” he said. “I play volleyball about three to four times a week. In addition to that, I coach/train as a CrossFit athlete about five to six times a week. That’s a lot of outdoors time and a lot of sweating, especially in New Orleans, which presented a problem. I could either lather up in sunscreen multiple times a day for the rest of my life or find clothing that protected my skin, but there were very few quality options.”
While there are other sun-protection clothing options on the market, Regan was unable to find ones that fit his exact fitness and sun-blocking needs.
“I need shirts that are lightweight and breathable enough to keep me comfortable when exercising, and also protective enough to minimize my UV exposure when outdoors,” he said. “It wasn’t until after my melanoma diagnosis that I learned the average shirt does very little to prevent UV rays from reaching the skin — the leading cause of skin cancer. So, I decided to go ahead and create the exact shirt I was looking for, and in my opinion the type of shirt that everyone should be wearing when outdoors.”
6 Tips – Protection is Key
1. Seek shade, especially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
2. Wear sunglasses and a hat.
3. Cover up with clothing.
4. Use broad spectrum 30+ or more sunscreen.
5. Reapply sunscreen often.
6. Be especially careful if: you have fair skin, spend a lot of time outdoors, have had skin cancer before, live in tropical or high-altitude climates and have a family history of skin cancers.
Source: American Cancer Society
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, protection and prevention of skin cancers is key: “One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the U.S. is estimated at $8.1 billion: about $4.8 billion for nonmelanoma skin cancers and $3.3 billion for melanoma.”
For Regan, the goal is educating consumers that wearing protective clothing such as Rayward Apparel has proven to be more effective and comfortable than spraying on sunscreen in preventing skin cancers across the board.
“Our ideal customer is anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors, but also minimize their UV exposure. This includes people previously diagnosed or at high risk for skin cancer, and also anyone who spends a substantial amount of time outdoors and understands the importance of UV protection. Our products are all designed to prevent UV radiation, and are all lab tested and certified to show that they do exactly that. Our goal is to …provide our customers with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything made by Rayward Apparel is not only certified UPF 50+, but a high quality and comfortable product they’ll be proud to wear for years to come.”
Rayward Apparel items are currently only available online, but Regan expects to expand to local and national retail stores by the end of this year. Items are available in men’s and women’s short- and long-sleeved tees ($39-$49), hoodies ($59), and sun hats and neck gaiters ($19-$35).
The company’s base of operations is its New Orleans headquarters.
“Our apparel is designed collaboratively by our in-house team and preferred suppliers,” he said. “The fabric technology we use varies based on the product line, and we work closely with our suppliers to develop the ideal fabrics for the intended application. We source samples from suppliers around the world and then send our favorites to a lab in the U.S. for UPF verification. This ensures they maintain a UV protection level of UPF 50 or greater, and then we continue working with the supplier to prototype the products we designed.
To ensure the highest quality products with competitive prices, Rayward Apparel sources its products globally, with most manufacturers based in the United States, India and China.
Regan heads a team of two, which includes himself, but is looking forward to expanding as the U.S. market opens up post-pandemic and the company gains exposure to retail and wholesalers across the country.
“We are hoping to hire another local team member by the end of the year to assist with our marketing and operations,” he said. “We launched our business just before COVID-19, which caused major challenges and delays, but we are optimistic about the future. Given the circumstances and challenges of navigating our business through a pandemic, our sales are promising and about as good as we could have expected. While not yet operating long enough to have an established baseline, we’re eagerly starting retail relationships and exploring wholesaling opportunities, which stands to play a significant role going forward.”
In addition to escalating sales numbers, Regan is dedicated to donating 5% of all profits to organizations dedicated to preventing, educating and treating skin cancer. A collaborating organization has yet to be selected, but he said research is underway in order to connect with the best long-term partner.
While not native to the city, Regan gives a lot of credit to his adopted hometown for its business support.
“We are headquartered in New Orleans, and we don’t anticipate that will ever change,” he said. “Although I grew up in Maryland, I’ve lived in New Orleans for close to 10 years and love it here. Rayward Apparel is focused on sun protection and skin cancer prevention, so from a climate standpoint New Orleans is the perfect place to be headquartered. And from a cultural standpoint, I couldn’t imagine a better place to start a business. The community here is incredible, and everyone is so supportive of new businesses. I can’t imagine any better place for Rayward Apparel, or any other small business, to be.”
What is UPF?
UPF, Ultraviolet Protection Factor — a similar rating to SPF for sunscreens — “indicates how much UV radiation (both UVB and UVA) a fabric allows to reach your skin, A UPF 50 fabric blocks 98% of the sun’s rays and allows 2% to penetrate, thus reducing your exposure risk significantly.”
SPF, Sun Protection Factor, measures “the time it takes for UV-exposed skin to redden; if you burn after 20 minutes, if used correctly, an SPF 15 sunscreen may protect your skin 15 times longer.”
A fabric must have a UPF of 30 to qualify for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. A UPF of 30 to 49 offers very good protection, while UPF 50+ rates as excellent.