BELFAST — While people might be familiar with Alicia Gaiero’s remarkable athletic abilities, she is remarkably creating her own path in the business world, beginning with her ski accessories business, Gnarly Neckies.
Gaiero, a 2016 Belfast Area High School graduate, is majoring in environmental policy and planning at the University of Maine at Farmington and recently obtained a certificate from the University of Southern Maine in geographic information systems.
Gaiero, as a budding entrepreneur, is cultivating a diverse portfolio of income streams.
In addition to Gnarly Neckies, she has launched Maine Coast Marine Maps and Consulting to provide consulting and map design for aquaculture lease sites along the state’s coast, and has started the process of establishing an aquaculture farm for oysters and scallops in East Casco Bay.
“My goal is to have a successful aquaculture farm and expand in the future but since I am only just beginning to get my feet wet, trying to take things on day at a time,” she said.
Operating Gnarly Neckies has not only allowed Gaiero to turn a hobby into a business, but has also taught her a multitude of valuable skills from pricing, costs, margins to marketing, organization and management.
“Having my own business as a college student has taught me so much and has also help to encourage me to pursue my passions in aquaculture (as well as aid me financially) and believe in myself,” Gaiero said. “The amount of support I’ve received is what keeps me going and what pushes me to continue.”
One of the most valuable skills she has learned is the power of relationships.
One of her coaches in Farmington recommended to event organizers for the U.S. Collegiate Ski Association Eastern region race that all competitors should receive one of Gaiero’s neck warmers as a participation gift.
The organizers agreed and placed an order for 170 neck warmers from Gaiero. (Though Gaiero, who competed in the event, did not place as high she would have liked to, her biggest victory that day, she said, was seeing each of the competitors wearing her creations.)
“These skills and relationships are invaluable for my future endeavors as I pursue two additional new businesses,” she said. “I think I am fairly humble when I mention Gnarly Neckies and when I put it on my resume, but I am told again and again that it speaks volumes.”
The most challenging aspect of running her accessories business, Gaiero said, is cutting the fabric.
“I’m left handed and despite all the practice I’ve had, I just cannot seem to cut a straight line, a motor skill that is just lost on [me],” she commented.
Aside from those those struggles, she has been challenged by learning the value of time management and managing her supply and demand.
“It always feels like when I have the least product, I have the most demand and visa-versa,” she said. “When people want neck warmers is when they’re skiing, but I’m also skiing! So finding the time and the balance is my biggest challenge, but not at all unmanageable.”
Nearly each of her designs have been inspired by her friends, she said.
“I try to keep everything fun and new,” she said. “I don’t repeat many patterns unless requested or popular.”
On top of neck warmers, she also produces hoodies and bandanas.
“The hoodies are something that always come out unique, but they’re very popular,” she said. “My friends all begged me to make them so I gave it a shot and have had a lot of requests. My bandanas are my favorite style, but the most popular is the traditional neck warmer.”
Gaiero’s introduction to creating neck warmers were in December 2017, after attempting to make neck warmers for her sisters as a Christmas present.
“My mom actually made most of them as I had just had my wisdom teeth out and I had lost interest quickly,” she commented. “At this point I had never actually used a sewing machine to make anything in my life. I had also purchased alot of fabric so my mom and I made many extra neckies.”
When Gaiero returned to Farmington, she began wearing one of her neck warmers to her team’s winter ski training camp and gifted a few to some of her friends, who loved the neck warmer.
“They all suggested I try making us team neck warmers, and I pursued the idea,” she said.
Gaiero quickly acquired a 1970s vintage sewing machine from the barn of a family friend and ordered burly beaver fabric (since her team’s nickname is the Beavers).
The first day of using the vintage sewing machine was challenging as the machine’s capacitor blew leaving Gaiero with a smoking machine a half-completed neckie.
Fortunately for Gaiero, she used YouTube and was able to remove the capacitor from the electrical panel and resume her work, selling team neck warmers for $5 each — just enough to pay for the materials.
“Since then, things have changed, though I still have the same machine plugging away,” she said.
A neck warmer, from start to finish, could take around 10 to 15 minutes, nowadays, for Gaiero to complete.
However, she prefers to work in phases.
“I’ll cut everything one day, pin the next and then get to sewing,” she said.
Hoodies, meanwhile, are done by request and take around 45 minutes to complete.
“My time availability is limited as a full time student and athlete, along with working on campus and at Sugarloaf, so sometimes I’ll take a little longer to complete my tasks but it doesn’t bother me much,” Gaiero said. “It’s all fun for me.”
Though now thriving at Maine-Farmington, Gaiero was not originally destined for the Franklin County institution.
While a student a Belfast Area High School, Gaiero committed to play field hockey for an out-of-state Division I program. She, ultimately, enrolled at the University of Maine’s flagship campus in Orono and was forced to suspend her passion of playing field hockey at the Division I level after receiving a lower than anticipated financial aid package from the out-of-state university. (She did, however, spend her lone semester in Orono as a member of the university’s club field hockey team.)
Gaiero only spent one semester in Orono, trading the large campus setting for the smaller campus setting the Farmington institution offered.
Being in, essentially, the skiing mecca of the state, Gaiero decided to become a skier.
Rotating through the trio of area mountains — Sugarloaf, Titcomb (where all UMF students receive a complimentary season pass) and Kent’s Hill (where Gaiero’s longtime boyfriend worked) — Gaiero developed a keen interest in skiing.
While skiing at Kent’s Hill, Gaiero became enamored in ski racing. Before long, the ski coach at Kent’s Hill encouraged Gaiero to contact the new ski coach at her university, who had just taken the reigns of the program with only a filled roster spots.
“I reached out and explained that I had never ski raced but I had a background of a competitive athlete who had previously been committed at the D1 level hoping it might help my case,” explained Gaiero.
From there, the rest was history as the coach emailed back confirming Gaiero would have a spot on his roster, before the two even had a chance to meet in person.
“I was thinking, damn he must be desperate, but the opportunity has [undoubtedly] changed my college experience for the best and is certainly the reason I decided to stay at Farmington,” said Gaiero.
Despite her young age, Gaiero has already showcased she has the drive, and passion, to produce a successful career, thanks, in part, to those she has surrounded herself with.
“I have my parents, family, and friends to thank along with being grateful for my experiences in overcoming adversity at a young age that have been formidable in becoming so self-determined,” she commented. “I always want to grow and learn. My need to grow drives my goals and I am empowered each time I overcome a barrier or a problem.”
To place an order for one of Gaiero’s ski accessories, email email@example.com.
Reach George Harvey and the sports department at: firstname.lastname@example.org.