BIDDEFORD (NEWS CENTER Maine)-- There's an ugly stigma about Maine; that this is not a good state to do business in. When it comes to which state is the best environment for business, Maine is consistently ranked near the bottom of the list in the mid to high 40's. On top of that, high taxes, energy costs, and other factors have lead some entrepreneurs to open their businesses elsewhere. However, there are others who are defying that stigma and coming to Maine specifically to open their business or bring an already established one here.
One of those business owners is Roxi Suger, fashion designer and owner of Angelrox clothing. Suger runs two stores in Maine, one in Biddeford and a more recently opened store in Portland, both of which are named after the artist herself- Suger. The clothing is cut, stitched, and packed for shipping all by hand by a staff of about 20 people inside a space at the old textile mill in Biddeford, bringing a new kind of manufacturing to a place so familiar with it.
"We are in textiles, in these old textile mills," Suger said with excitement when referring to what she calls the "good energy" she feels knowing where the clothing is being made. "They're coming back to life in a new way that is much more about small business, you know, than it is one massive business."
All of the clothing in the Angelrox line is made from plush, plant-based fabric and is designed to be durable but feminine and intended for every day wear. The natural material is also something very important to Suger.
"They'll ultimately return to the Earth," she said.
Roxi Suger's path to Maine was not direct. Born in the Midwest, Suger moved to New York City in the late 1990's and quickly launched her line and store, but the expense to sustain all of this took its toll.
"That got me backed up into an artist's loft with no heat for a year, no shower."
The shop closed after that year.
Suger would later meet her husband and the two would often escape to her father-in-law's home in Saco where he moved after retiring. Even now, talking about Maine's skiing and beauty and way of life, Suger lights up.
"Maine was our haven for a good decade or so in New York," she said.
The lifestyle drew them to call Biddeford home by 2013. In an effort to compensate for the notoriously smaller living conditions in New York City that had dictated their lives for so long, Suger said she and her husband and young son moved into a "big house" when they landed. She said the city itself still reminds her of Brooklyn, NY.
In her home, Suger and her husband relaunched her dream of the Angelrox clothing line, making the clothes where they lived. With many store fronts empty downtown, she found it affordable to later move the operation into a small space where the clothing would be made and shipped from. The business grew to 10 employees just in that first year.
"We somehow brought our New York life here and then amplified it a whole bunch," Suger said.
That first space would later become a solely retail shop, selling Angelrox clothing and handmade items from other artists, and the manufacturing operation moved down the block to the mill. The team behind Angelrox has grown to 20 people and Suger plans to expand in the future. Last Spring, she opened her second Suger store in Portland.
In the current climate, though, Suger worries new small business owners won't have the same kind of opportunity she had.
"We still walk through the downtown and it still feels more empty than it does full," she said of Biddeford.
Suger says Maine's outreach to out of state businesses with campaigns has been strong, but she'd like to see more being done to help supplement new small businesses with facility rent and employee benefits for a better chance at growth and overall success.
"The new wave is maybe more about small business, the small and medium businesses, than it is about big business accumulatively."
As Roxi Suger will tell you, big things can start small.