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Startup grew from class project

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What started as a class project at the University of Mary Washington has turned into a local startup for two recent graduates.

Abbas Haider and Robert Davis recently started a company called American Armor Attire Inc. in a tucked-away business park near Shannon Airport in Spotsylvania County.

The duo met last fall in an international marketing seminar taught by UMW professor Galen deGraff. They teamed up on an assignment asking them to create a real-world business idea that could work overseas.

In 2008, while a freshman at UMW, Haider had started a custom-made suit and shirt business called Aspetto Inc. that he continues to run. The business idea that he and Davis came up with was an extension of Aspetto.

The concept: Insert bullet-resistant Kevlar into formalwear worn by security officials, government contractors, members of the military, police officers and more. Make it light and thin enough that it would be comfortable for the person wearing it and unnoticeable to others. The pair learned that other than one Colombian company, nobody had a similar product.

The concept was good enough to earn Haider and Davis an “A” on the project. But perhaps more importantly, the pair made a connection to a real-world company that could help make the vision a reality.

Haider met a local businessman named Chris Frederick through an entrepreneurs club at UMW. Frederick, who runs Spotsylvania-based Shirts for Anything with business partner Jeff Morin, supplies shirts to a local company called Renegade Armor.

Renegade Armor sells an array of tactical gear and armor to police, military and government agencies. Marine Corps veterans Marcus Treiber and Skip Church, who met at Marine Corps System Command at Quantico, started the company in 2009 out of a small office in the Bowman Center after working for many years for big U.S. armor companies.

They have since grown Renegade Armor into a 25-member firm with a national sales force. The U.S. Coast Guard is Renegade’s largest customer. The company manufactures most of the products it sells out of its roughly 28,000-square-foot office in the Fredericksburg Business Center off State Route 2.

Frederick put Haider in touch with Treiber, who saw the potential for the concept of armored suits. As talks progressed, Treiber and Church offered American Armor Attire a free suite at their office on Pierson Drive in Spotsylvania while the business gets on its feet. Renegade Armor will supply the Kevlar that is inserted into the firm’s custom-fitted shirts and suits.

The suit jackets with the Kevlar inside weigh as little as three pounds. The Kevlar is placed in three pieces in the jacket: the back and both sides of the front. Armor inserted into the shirt covers the remaining opening around the chest.

Haider and Davis recently received a pending patent for the bullet-resistant suit and shirt. They are now working on getting a loan or investment. That will allow them to hire about five people to manufacture the product at the Renegade Armor office. They plan to attend trade shows and have been meeting with prospective customers from the CIA, U.S. Capitol Police and NCIS. Treiber and Church have helped with connections.

Haider decided to put his plans to attend law school on hold as he tries to get American Armor Attire started with Davis.

“I think they’re going to do great,” Treiber said.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405