A Coast Guard veteran and former professional MMA fighter is behind one of the newest fashion-based businesses to launch in Columbus. Simple at its core, the Kuft band solves a problem for sleeve-rollers and the long-armed.
“It’s a band that basically helps to keep your sleeves rolled up and looking much more crisp and professional,” Founder Michael Bernhard says. “They are produced right here in Columbus by myself.”
The one-size-fits-most bands are made of nylon elastic imported from Europe and come in a variety of colors. While the operation is more geared towards men, Kuft has sold over 1,000 sets of bands to both sexes since its March 2015 launch.
It might seem like an interesting career path, but his own entrepreneurial venture was actually a logical next step for Bernhard.
He spent a number of years completing high-profile assignments as a member of the Coast Guard and Presidential Honor Guard. He stood at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, marched from the Capitol to the White House with Bush during his second inauguration and guarded Reagan’s casket.
Bernhard eventually transferred to Miami Beach, FL finding quite the opposite experience working in federal law enforcement for two years. Always an athlete, he became a professional MMA fighter after the Coast Guard, competing in 14 fights across the world before injuries sidelined his career. That was about the time he discovered startups. The veteran worked for a startup software company in Florida before heading back to the buckeye state.
“I’ve always been an idea person but never implementing,” Bernhard says.
However after spending some time at Endeavor Forward in Columbus volunteering and consulting for startups, “It really motivated me to pursue this idea that I had for awhile,” he says, realizing he should probably follow his own advice.
That idea was the beginning of Kuft.
Bernhard is taking steps to protect his namesake product too, seeking a patent for the Kuft band. As any business that’s been through the steps knows, that’s no easy task. The process starts with a provisional patent that protects a maker’s idea for 12 months.
“It’s hard to navigate because there are a lot of requirements,” Bernhard says. “I almost thought I was going to have to have a law degree to fill out the application!”
The somewhat archaic process was a time-consuming, print, fill it out, scan it operation, but the Kuft band got approval. That was about a $350 process. A normal patent costs in the thousands of dollars and requires a lawyer, but sales have shown Bernhard the designation is worth pursuing.
“I just think it’s important to protect an idea that, to my knowledge, is original,” he says. Also, being able to claim Kuft as a patented product, “It helps add value.”
Bernhard is exploring other products to add under the Kuft umbrella, ultimately landing on pocket squares for the first addition.
“They are really resurging back in the fashion world,” he says.
Instead of silk or satin, Kuft opts for 100 percent cotton squares with unique patterns and designs. Lapel pins are also a possibility, but Bernhard doesn’t want to lose sight of the real star of the show – the Kuft band.
After almost a year in business, Bernhard’s goal for the coming year is actually to streamline and really focus back in on the inaugural product and expand his retail footprint. Available for order online, Kuft bands are also currently stocked at Flying Gent Downtown, Unseen Elegance in Bellefontaine and soon, Pursuit in Short North.
For more information, getkuft.com.