Zags founder jennifer horton knows all too well the old adage “Necessity is the mother of invention.” The mother of three had been searching for a specific product in vain for years, growing more and more frustrated when she couldn’t find it.
“We are such an active family. We’re always on the boat or at the beach, soccer field or football games,” she says. “I wanted a blanket with UV protection to throw over the kids’ legs or to cover their shoulders.”
After a few summers of not finding what she needed, she kept waking up in the middle of the night dreaming about ways to create it herself. “It was almost like a God tap,” she says.
Horton contacted a friend who manufacturers athleisure and asked him to supply the fabric she needed. She lent her own artwork from her time as a painter to create the vibrant textile prints, and she borrowed the initials from her kids’ names Zella, Anne, Gregory and Sam—and, voilà, ZAGS was born.
“It’s so interesting how things collided together,” Horton says.
ZAGS debuted its first products in 2015: sun protective wraps in three different sizes and a dozen different prints. From there, the brand has grown its offerings to a dozen different apparel items, including ponchos, sundresses and caftans, plus a range of accessories, all offered in nearly 100 different prints.
ZAGS’ fabric is lab-tested to ensure a rating of UPF 50—the highest sun protection the FDA will allow for clothing. (As a side note, Horton says that many of the darker-colored items unofficially have a higher UPF). The fabric is also antimicrobial, resistant to stains and odors, and has wicking and cooling properties like your favorite performance wear.
“When the fabric gets wet, it dries on its own, which is great on the beach and boat,” Horton says. “It feels like mobile air-conditioning because it uses your perspiration to help cool you off.” Also worth noting are the gorgeous eye-catching prints and patterns that Horton and her collaborators have created from scratch. “It’s like wearing a beautiful piece of art with a great function,” she says.
No wonder retail outlets, from museum gift shops to dermatology offices, carry ZAGS merchandise. In fact, ZAGS can be purchased in many retail locations across 12 states and on the company’s website. However, Horton initially got the word out with trunk shows. “A Southern woman is your best marketer,” Horton says in her characteristic Carolina accent. “It became a good rumor that spread like wildfire.”
She loved the grassroots interaction with her customer base. “I got great feedback on the designs—which one’s people loved the most and which didn’t strike as much of a chord,” Horton says. “People were so sweet and really affirming that I could do this.”
Although the former stay-at-home mom felt called by God to launch ZAGS, her customers’ feedback was welcome confirmation that she was on the right path. She’d been out of the working world for more than a decade while raising her kids, so getting back at it was a little daunting to say the least.
The business acumen she developed in her former career as a pharmaceutical sales rep came in handy throughout the process, as did her degrees in visual arts.
“I was longing to do something that fulfilled both my creative nature and my business mind, which I’d pushed pause on,” Horton recalls. “Here I was, in my 40s, launching a business. It set an example for my kids that it’s possible, and now they’re thinking differently about their paths.”
ZAGS’ designs channel the energy and aesthetic from the Horton family’s travels around the world and their life in the Lowcountry. Their favorite destinations in Mexico and Italy are evident in the vibrant crimson, magenta, aqua and lime shades swirling throughout the garments. ZAGS offers bold prints like cheetah, a geometric crab pattern and “Lowcountry camo,” plus looser watercolor-influenced designs of flowers, abstract art and a cityscape of Venice. “ZAGS tries hard to have something for everybody,” Horton says.
To that end, ZAGS has added a line of solid-colored apparel and accessories in classic shades of navy, black, sea-glass green and vibrant orange. Customers can also look forward to the release of new apparel items, including palazzo pants, a cardigan and a sleeveless maxi dress, all with playful names.
“The ZAGS brand is lighthearted and whimsical,” Horton says, which is even apparent in its tagline, Live in the Light. “We approach everything with a sense of fun and joy. We want this to be a happy place for people to shop.” *
Alaena Hostetter is a content strategist, editor and journalist who writes about art, design, culture, music, entertainment and food. She can be reached via her website alaenahostetter.com.