By Amanda Kuhnert
Mother-daughter business duo, Sophia Manzi and Gail Borden, are both artists. Sophia is a painter and Gail is a quilter. Their company, Vivace Vermont, is the intersection of these two disciplines. They produce clothing and home accessories using colorful, one-of-a-kind fabrics.
The plan was hatched on a 2019 trip to New York City. “We visited Mood Fabrics in the Garment District and it left us reeling with ideas,” Sophia said. “At a diner, we started brainstorming what became Vivace Vermont.”
Sophia and Gail have always been inspired by each other’s work. “Growing up, I’d be painting and she’d be quilting in the same room, and we’d ask each other for tips and advice when we’d run into a problem,” Sophia said. On that memorable trip to New York, the two were able to pinpoint the common denominator in both of their practices—pattern.
“So we started with a staple piece in almost anyone’s wardrobe: the jean jacket, and put a fresh twist on it, making a statement piece garment with our designs and artwork,” she said. After creating a few prototypes, they reached out to Sarah Kearns, a business advisor with the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC), for help setting up their business.
“She had great ideas about packaging and helped fill in the blanks on things we hadn’t thought about,” Sophia said. Kearns also steered them toward other free resources and support networks for small businesses in Vermont.
Sophia and Gail started selling their jean jackets at pop-up shops around Vermont and through word-of-mouth referrals. After some success, they decided to expand to tote bags. But they fell in love with the fabric for the bags when it arrived and decided to change course. “We went back to the drawing board and started working on aprons, pillows, cotton canvases, napkins and tea towels,” Sophia said.
The next phase of their business journey is figuring out how to broaden their market to include more urban areas. “In Vermont there are lots of opportunities for pop ups as a small business,” Sophia said. “But our products don’t scream ‘Vermont’—there aren’t any cows or autumn leaves.”
Finding their market may take some time, but Sophia has learned the importance of patience in the startup process. “It’s a slow and steady train, not a race,” she said. “We’re in it for the long haul and are learning as we go.”