Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development

Chris Yura

September 22, 2022 Coalfield Development Season 2 Episode 13
Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development
Chris Yura
Show Notes Transcript

Original intro/outro music: 
"'Till I See Stars" by The Parachute Brigade

John F. Kennedy:

The sun does not always shine in West Virginia but the people always do know I'm delighted to be here.

Brandon Dennison:

These are historic times in Appalachia. A lot has changed. A lot is changing now and a lot still needs to change. In our podcast we talk with change makers right square in the middle of baldness working to ensure the changes for the good. You're listening to change in the coalfields podcast by Coalfield Development. I'm your host Brandon Dennison. Welcome to changing the Coalfields. My name is Brandon Dennison. This is a podcast of coal field development, a community economic development organization based in the southern part of West Virginia, we are talking about change and what's traditionally been known as the coal fields. And today we're joined by a friend of mine and a colleague and a fellow social entrepreneur, who I really enjoy working with. And I really respect a lot, Chris Euro. Hello,

Chris Yura:

thank you for having me.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, thanks for coming on the podcast. We've done a lot of fun things together. But we've not done a podcast together before. So this will be fun.

Chris Yura:

It's very true. Very true. It's our time together has definitely been eventful, with lots of exciting times. And we have more more times in the future I hope.

Brandon Dennison:

Definitely good way to put it. Good way to put it. And we will I'll sort of start at the end of the story actually. And then we'll go back to the beginning and do the long version of really just your life and your experience as a as a social entrepreneur. But I do want to make sure towards the top. We're working together on a very exciting event to be held here on the Marshall campus, which is where we do the podcast at the AI center studio. So I should thank the Marshall University AI center. And Chris, can you tell folks about what this exciting event

Chris Yura:

is? Absolutely. Yeah, we're very excited. October 4, we'll be having actually third and fourth, we're having the Appalachian social enterprise Summit hosted by Marshall University and Coalfield Development. And this is really a place that we hope will grow into an exciting platform for social enterprise in the region. This year, we have how University Virginia Tech, UVA Wise WVU, Marshall University, rural action, being really the CO organizers and the organizers of the event. And it's really,

Brandon Dennison:

I mean, just to hear you list all those together, it's amazing.

Chris Yura:

It really is, and, you know, bring a group of people together that are innovators and come from various places, some Appalachian some not some transplants. And the ideas that kind of flow from these meetings is it's incredible. So, as we develop out the content for the third and the fourth of October, we expect it to be pretty stellar. And we're really excited to open it up to the public they'd like to join and we can provide links and addresses where you can, you can do that if you have if you visit our corporate website, you can find out more information.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, we're gonna have a dinner the night before at the west edge factory, which is a Coalfield Development property where you can see social enterprises in action and have farm to table dinner really good, fresh, healthy, local food. The full day, we're gonna have a keynote by Brad Smith, president of Mercy university, but also extremely successful business person himself, former CEO of Intuit, we're gonna have a couple of different pitch contests, we're going to be talking opportunity sectors like technology, agriculture, downtown revitalization, it just fills me with hope to see it all come together and to know how much good stuffs happening in Appalachia rightnow.

Chris Yura:

It is and honestly just being, you know, involved with his content creation, it's given me such an insight into things that I had no idea we're going on. So I think if you do plan on coming or attending, virtually, if we have that option, just be ready to be surprised and inspired. We, you know, luckily enough, we have this as a real regional event this year. And I think we could even have another part of Appalachia joining potentially a little later in the game here, as we approach October quickly, but you know, to have perspectives, insights, experiences, from all these different regions is something I think we all can learn from. The goal for this is really to come out of it with a sense of excitement, enthusiasm around social enterprise, and then also to inspire you know, we need entrepreneurs, we need people to move back to the coal fields, when we want to give them some ideas of things we see as low hanging fruit, so very exciting events and can't wait for it to get here not too far in the distant future.

Brandon Dennison:

So Chris, learning more about you and your story.

Chris Yura:

I did, I did. I was born and raised in Morgantown, where I am today. And I was fortunate enough to have two parents that worked in higher education. I think similar to you, Brandon. I basically grew up on the campus of WVU in Allen Hall, which is where the Psychology Department is. So my parents were both psychologists, and I have a older brother and a little sister. So grew up in the, you know, had an interesting experience, because I grew up kind of in the city for West Virginia,

Brandon Dennison:

Appalachian city. We'll call it a town.

Chris Yura:

Right, exactly. It's about 40,000. Without students, I also my mother's family has been in Appalachia since colonial days. And some of the land we still have in our family is, was given for service in the Revolutionary War. So we go very far back. And some of my family still lived, you know, in Lewis County. And so I really, the one thing I really loved about growing up here is that I got to see so many different sides to life. And it really wasn't defined by how much money you had. Something that I look back on and I kind of I'm really glad that I had that experience, because, you know, the, the economic barriers that are here in life, they were very blurry back then, growing up here. And I think that it was a great way to grow up. I had a great childhood and yeah, very proud to be from West Virginia.

Brandon Dennison:

What are some of your happiest childhood memories growing up in West Virginia,

Chris Yura:

I think my favorite was going down to my farm, my family's farm in Lewis County, that was always a big treat for us, you know, as having an older brother, you know, basically had a built in best buddy. So we're really close in age. So we've just go in the woods. And, you know, it was basically a childhood that my highlights were all outdoors. I'm a very big, passionate outdoors person. It's hard for me to really sit inside very long. So I think I'm even more antsy than my kids. And so, you know, I grew up really just being outside a lot. Which, you know, was really, I think it was, it was a great way to entertain ourselves are a great way to learn about nature. For my brother and myself, it actually was good training, as well as we ended up getting to go to college for free because of it.

Brandon Dennison:

So you mentioned and I'll we'll jump around a little bit, which is fine. So you're raising your own family here now.

Chris Yura:

Yeah, I started a little late. So I'm 42. So I started late, but I started fast. And I got married five years ago. And I have my fourth child being born in March. So succession there. It is, it is and they are all are named after West Virginia places and special places for my wife and I, who also is a very passionate person about the outdoors and a native to West Virginia from Shinnston. So, so I have Cooper for Cooper's rock. I have Seneca for Senecas rock down in, down in the panhandle area. I have Shenandoah for Shenandoah river. And then my, my next child will be born in March and his name is gonna be Weston, after Weston, which is where my family's originally from.

Brandon Dennison:

That's awesome. Congrats on the, on the on the on the one that's coming and on having just such a beautiful family.

Chris Yura:

I appreciate it. God's been good. And, you know, it's it was a dream of mine to always come back to Appalachia. And you know, I was away for a little while, and my wife and I wanted to come back to raise my family and I've been great, you know, blessed enough to have that opportunity.

Brandon Dennison:

So you mentioned growing up loving being outside being on campus with your parents and higher ed. And then you mentioned training because you were an athlete, which led to a scholarship. So tell us a little bit about your athletic career.

Chris Yura:

Yeah, you know, again, I think it was it was born out of a combination of being close to a college campus and getting this go to the mountaineer games and seeing all the kind of the traditions and the passion around sports and having no cable television and no internet. So two of those some of those things played into my brother and I playing outside a lot and you know, my parents again, they were very, they are still amazing people but never was pressured into it. We just we naturally kind of gravitated to some of the contact sports and started with hockey and you know, God bless my parents. They drive us all over the place. Early in the morning to play hockey and it evolved in the football and you know, it was grateful that had a chance to, to kind of excel at that sport and my older brother as well. So we ended up you know, playing in high school and Morgantown high school and he received a scholarship to West Virginia University and I received one to Notre Dame to play football.

Brandon Dennison:

and what position did you play?

Chris Yura:

So in high school, I played running back and I would play defense every once in a while, but when I got some inner game I played defensive back is a true freshman. And actually, I think my second or third game was against Tom Brady. So yeah, yeah, that ages me a little bit. So yeah, then I, I always wanted to be on the offensive side of the ball, because that was kind of naturally what I, I really love to run the football and that was where my passion was. So I asked to be switched over as a sophomore, and I played, tailback and mainly special teams. And then I decided to get bigger because I was needed to kind of at a tweener position between a halfback and a fullback. So I got up to about 230. And I finished my career blocking and running into people's as fast as possible. So I was fortunate enough to letter all four years, and in four years, so I was very, very excited about that. I unfortunately, I didn't have the ability to go on the play. But my goal was always to play in college. And it was the letter four so you know, having reached that I was...

Brandon Dennison:

College I mean, you played at Notre Dame was talking about a passionate following at the highest level.

Chris Yura:

It is it's a it's an amazing community. And I tell you it in West Virginia, there's only a few pockets of places that really love it. And it's mainly because of the 1988 National Championship game in which West Virginia played against Notre Dame and they lost and I can tell you that when I decided to go to Notre Dame in high school, it wasn't a friendly crowd my senior year and received some some pretty disturbing letters in the mail from upset fans. So So yeah, it was it was definitely not the the fan favorite of West Virginia, but a great place to get education and to, to play college football.

Brandon Dennison:

The good thing about West Virginia, there's a lot of good things about Appalachian culture. Maybe a slight drawback is we do sort of hold on to grudges a very long time.

Chris Yura:

Yeah, that was one that I didn't realize how deep to the football one was against Notre Dame until committing. And then I started starting to understand them much better. And luckily enough, I think is has calmed down now since I've made a return. But yeah, it was it was definitely again, leaving West Virginia was tough. It was it was hard for me to leave here. But I just I, I felt that God was leading me in a different direction. And I always wanted to come back. So my goal was always to, you know, once I had the opportunity to leave, I always knew I wanted to come back. It's just a matter of when and how. And that kind of just after college, it was really, I didn't know.

Brandon Dennison:

What are some of the key things you learned at Notre Dame, and what were some of the seeds planted there that maybe would grow into something bigger like later on in your life?

Chris Yura:

One of the big things that I learned when I went to Notre Dame is that I started to understand a little bit about the perspective others had towards Appalachia. I didn't realize kind of the presumptions and thoughts that people regularly talked about regarding Appalachia in a positive light. And I didn't understand that, you know, I didn't really understand that it was that strong outside of the region that people kind of looked down upon the area. And when I went to Notre Dame, interestingly enough, they actually have a huge seminar dedicated to Appalachia and Brandon, you're one of the featured speakers couple years ago. And it's a big deal. Very big deal there. So I think what I recognized was, well, I didn't realize that there was real like we lived in a place where the poverty was was more real than other places. And then I also didn't realize that there also was this effort to kind of help assist the region in a large capacity. So when I started learning about the Appalachian seminar enter dame I started to understand a little more of the work that was being done in the region. And then also you know, from my for myself it I think it also developed more pride and pride of where I was from, because I think there was a lot of myths, misinterpretations. generalizations about the West Virginia and other places in Appalachia,

Brandon Dennison:

You also learned about this famous thing called the shirt.

Chris Yura:

That's right. Yes, I did. I did, you know, you know, one of those traditions, and there's a couple of there's, there's some really neat ones for Notre Dame, but one of them started in the 90s, that a group of students got these T shirts together for the essentially sell as a fundraiser. And it ended up becoming the largest single collegiate apparel program in the country in the world. And it's called the shirt. And so when you would run out of the tunnel stadium, you would be able to identify your fan base very quickly, because everybody had the same shirt on. And each year, it changed with the color. There was a committee and for me, it was, it was something that really kind of captured my imagination as a player just because it was so easy to figure out who was on your side, and you kind of look to them, I think whenever you're in a opposing stadium. And, little did I know that apparel would be in my future, but the power of the symbol of it and the unification of it really, really stuck with me. So this is where the story gets a little different. I think. It's, you know, it's interesting, interesting path. Yeah, my passion. Really, when I was in college, I really loved exercise physiology, I just very passionate about it, ever since it really when I was probably 12, I started really getting passionate about lifting weights, and my strength coaches were kind of my heroes. And I really felt that that was what I wanted to do. I thought that was kind of my skill set and where I was headed/ Yeah, I thought I wanted to be a strength coach for you know, for a college or specifically for football. And so I was kind of given the advice that maybe for a year, you should be a trainer, you know, do some do some advancement with the in the education sector with, with exercise physiology, to see if you're really how passionate you are about it. So. So after college, I was fortunate enough to get a job at the four seasons at Miami, in Miami, Florida, and a place called the Sports Club LA, which it's a really famous gym or was and really for kind of a higher end clientele. So, so yeah, basically went from South Bend to South Beach. You couldn't talk, you know, talk about some polar extremes. It was it was definitely a culture shock. And it was amazing place it just was so different than where I was in West Virginia and in South Bend. And during my time there, it was a new gym, it was a new hotel to get that opened up. So the Miami Herald Center reporter to take a picture of the facility and they asked me if I'd be in it. And the picture, it was really funny picture. I think I have a tuxedo top on with a dumbbell in one hand, and in some glasses like, like, this is the creme de la creme of working out. It was was the vibe. And so I took it, and I thought okay, well, that's never going to be seen anywhere. You know, it's that's just gonna go to the back page or something. And sure enough, it was on the front page. My dad actually got a frame so I have it. Yeah, he made sure that it got picked up on the AP wire too. So it actually went to a lot of places that you just wouldn't expect it to go. So yeah, I from that. I got started getting requests and scouted to do modeling, which again, not something that I would ever ever thought of or thought was a career path. But it seemed like at the time, it was like wow, like people get paid to do this. So maybe I should see where this goes. So it ended up taking me to New York City. And I was my home base for five years Manhattan and model for Ford models. And it took me all over the world and all over the country. So I got to spend time in Milan and Munich. Did various jobs in Colorado and Texas. Kind of all over the place. And in conjunction with that, you know when you're when you're a model when you're when you're "Zoolandering" it for your rent, essentially. For those of you that don't know what resume lander is, please go watch the movie. I've realized the older I've gotten when I use that reference, like half the room doesn't quite get it. Yeah, it's a quiet like, it was funny. It was funny in 2002, for sure, again, a very different career path, a couple of things I learned, really, it was just sales, it's pretty much what it came down to, obviously, you had to fit the clothes, and you had to have a look. But you also have the personality that people want to work with you. And you just ended up getting used to going to, you know, cold calls and cold plate, cold rooms, and just being rejected constantly, that was really the life of a model slash actor, which again, is another Zoolander reference, but very true, because part of my gig was also a kind of a reoccurring spot on All My Children, as a bartender, and so I would, I would do these jobs, you know, and it was, it was fun, it was definitely, you know, a whole nother side of life that I'd never had been exposed to, and learned a ton, I also had a lot of time on my hands to be honest, because in that field, you don't work every day, it's, if you work once or twice a week, it's actually really good. Because the pay rates are so high. So you go on castings, and you have a lot of time to, to really, you know, to do whatever else, unless you had to have a side job, you know, at a restaurant. For me, you know, the seasons, when which I didn't have to have a side job at a restaurant. I got in touch, and I got connected with Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which is a church in New York City started by Tim Keller in the late 80s. And really, that Church changed my life really got me turned on to volunteering in the city. And connected with a group called New York cares, which is an incredible nonprofit that allows people basically one day volunteer opportunities on a whim. So if you basically wanted to know what you didn't have anything to do tomorrow, at three o'clock, you can get on this website, and you can volunteer in the Bronx to SAT prep. Or you could go and help with a feeding program, like had opportunities all over the city, all the different boroughs, all different focuses, you know, it wasn't just one, one thing, so you can really learn a lot about a lot of organizations. So through that, I mean, I just, it was amazing, I had so many different experiences of learning, different walks of life, different life circumstances, and some amazing people that really were living their lives for other people. And I was just inspired completely by it.

Brandon Dennison:

I have to say, I've done a few different panels and public events with Chris and it always gets quite a reaction when you're telling your story. And then it sort of take this sharp left turn and male model.

Chris Yura:

Yeah, it's, yeah, it's so weird, too. Because on the surface, it is like the most. I mean, it really is like a very self centered profession, because you are always thinking of yourself, like you're making if you get the job, or if you this, I mean, I guess it's like everything in life, but, but it is a little more in your face, that it's about yourself. And at the same time. For me, personally, it was probably the most inspiring time because I got to see places and people and meet people that I never would have ever met, and, you know, have opportunities that I never would have had. And it's and really sometimes just to be a fly on the wall, like, you know, not a lot of executives in meetings are expecting the model or the eliciting and on the marketing strategy for the year, you're just supposed to be the the where the where the blazer, you know, and, and, and leave the room when they tell you, you know. And it really was that. And so, during the season, I remember the day I was sitting in, I was in a fitting room, and I was with a company that was making apparel from what they what they consider to be a more sustainable source. And the clothing was amazing, it felt great. You know, the story made you want to wear it. And I was just like, wow, I can't believe it that this is actually you know, better for the environment better, better for people. They gave us a bunch of samples we left and like I was kind of telling this stuff. And somebody mentioned it to me like hey, I don't know, if it's all that it's cracked up to be, you know, the whole idea of greenwashing really wasn't out yet. I mean, this was like, you know, 2006 Maybe it was pretty early. But they mentioned some things. And I was like, you know, so I did a little digging. And I found that yeah, that in fact, this brand was basically touting something that at the end of the day was not better for the environment or for the people that were actually making it. And I don't know, I just had this kind of a eureka moment where I was like, oh, that's I was all about it. And I was telling people about it. I would have paid more for it. But it actually wasn't better and so, drawing from my experiences from my past and specifically with Notre Dame and the shirt and this power that clothing can have, I was like, You know what, maybe you could make something that actually was better. Like, what if you did it, right? And you did something that was actually benefiting a community, benefiting your planet and you didn't try to go around it, you actually embrace that as what you were. So through this kind of thought process, the idea for creating sustainable clothing came about.

Brandon Dennison:

We're going to spend a lot of time on sustain you but a couple of short questions, as we transition into that, that vision that was sewn in New York, you got to be in a Bon Jovi music video.

Chris Yura:

I did I you can. Welcome to wherever you are about a minute and 20 seconds into it. You can see me washing windows, it's I think I should have gotten nominated or something. But I don't know if there's a word for that non speaking role.

Brandon Dennison:

But I didn't realize you get to travel so much. Through this case. You mentioned like Munich, Milan was that like, basically for fashion shows?

Chris Yura:

Yeah, exactly. It was, yeah, for like fashion week in Milan. You go there for like a month.

Brandon Dennison:

To go from your farm in Lewis county to end up at Fashion Week, like what happens at European fashion show? What does that even like help us other Appalachians understand, like, what's even going on there?

Chris Yura:

Honestly, people take it as serious as like sports. I mean, it's like literally, yeah, they're like, backstage, people are getting pumped up. And I mean, I'm, I was a little bit, you know, again, I was I was older when I got it, you know, I got into this compared to a lot of the folks and then a lot of the folks were like....

Brandon Dennison:

Clapping signs that say, like "model like a champion today".

Chris Yura:

Yeah, exactly. It felt like it at times I was looking around, like they seriously walking down and walking back, you know, like, just turn left.

Brandon Dennison:

Don't fall down. Yeah.

Chris Yura:

Now, I mean, it's a big, obviously, it's a big business. It's a there's a huge culture, just around it with the parties. And, you know, the, just just the culture surrounding is enormous. In Europe, it's even, you know, it's even bigger than I think, in some ways than New York is and New York Fashion Week is obviously a very big deal. Again, this is I don't, I don't know what it's like now or what it's been like for the last 12 years. But you know, it was it was a very big deal in Milan. And in Germany, they shoot a lot of catalogs. And that's really as a model like it, it's backwards way of thinking like you think that like being in Walmart is not good. But actually Walmart is like, the best paying job. Being in GQ is like $150 a day. Being in Walmart, it's like 5000. So, so, you know, it's basically the opposite. You know, the more high fashion you are, the less you likely are paid. But you have to have the high fashion stuff to get the Walmart job. So you got to build a book, essentially. And this portfolio, and it takes time. And and based on that is typically why people choose you for jobs. And yeah, so I got to, you know, the different companies like JCPenney's out of Dallas, so they shoot out of Dallas, but I did. There was a Sports Authority was a thing back when I was doing it, and that was in Colorado. So they fly out to Colorado to you know, use fake snow and shoot snowboarding stuff. Yeah, it was very, it was very interesting. And it was awesome. Honestly, it was great. It just, it was also something that was very temporary. I mean, I didn't. Yeah, well, I mean, some people try. And, and I remember running into those people on castings. And being on some jobs, even with some dads, you know, and talking. I just couldn't imagine it, it's just such a rough, unpredictable thing. And to try to do that with a family. And the cost of living obviously, in the cities is crazy. So I knew for me that there was a there was a time to pull the pull the strength. And I was, you know, a kind of very much coincided with the collapse of the banking system and inspiration from Sustain U all at once. Because, you know, when when Lehman went down, and the bank started to close, the first thing that these companies did was they cut their advertising budgets. So the writing was on the wall, for me at least like okay, so it's good to have that you should exit now. Don't wait too much longer. And I had an idea. And I felt that by that point. I was very passionate about this, and I thought I could really make a go of it. So...

Brandon Dennison:

Tell us about your idea.

Chris Yura:

So my idea was that, you know, I was a sociology major at Notre Dame, and we studied a lot about kind of the economic sectors of the country, and I knew that the South was once a very strong textile region. I didn't realize that North also was as well. Until later getting into the business. But then I thought, you know, what if you would if you utilize the infrastructure that already exists to create apparel that was made in United States, but instead of using the, you know, conventional materials, like cotton or polyester that take a lot of resources, what if you use something better than that? What if there was a better material? So, the quest became two-fold. One, you know, after NAFTA, in the 90s, a lot of the apparel companies went overseas. I think in 94, something like 40% of our clothing was actually made the United States. And then...

Brandon Dennison:

Interestingly, if folks know, west edge, this is the story, it was the Corbin Suit Company that made men's suits at what's now our West Edge Factory here in Huntington. And it outsourced to Chile. After NAFTA, so it's, it's just interesting to draw that parallel.

Chris Yura:

Yeah, no, exactly. It's, it's, it's amazing that the connection of today Mountain Mindful with what happened and then how that David kind of came to be. Yeah, it's it's, it trends well, with history, you know, there was a mass exodus, you know, by the time that I started sustain you, in 2009, I think it was 2% of the clothing we wore was from the United States. So just in that short amount of time, it just was just a mighty Exodus. I really, you know, one, other factories in the Carolinas or other areas that could actually make clothing and I just began the search of finding some entrepreneurs that were willing to do that, or are doing that, and then also figuring out what is it better material like what is actually better than conventional materials, because there was a lot of things out there. And again, the inspiration for all of this came from kind of falling for greenwash product that was from a material that was supposed to be better, but in the end, it wasn't better. So I didn't want to get blindsided myself with starting a business predicated on something and it actually not being as good as it could be, with the understanding that nothing's perfect. And, but there is better that we can do better. So. So yeah, so I basically moved from New York, to my parents house in West Virginia. So I moved back to West Virginia. From there, I started making trips to the Carolinas to these factories, and learning how to make clothing, how to make T shirts, particularly that was the idea was always about T shirts, kind of going back to the shirt. So I was fortunate enough to meet some some people that had a lot of experience in textiles, and they were willing to kind of take me under their wing, and teach me you know, what it means to knit fabric or what it means to sew something like the steps that are involved. You know, it was a good year of, of just apprenticeship, you know, unpaid to just understand even how do I start? You know, and I definitely went through essentially, a training on apparel in a very fast manner. But but in a way that I think, maybe some fashion schools don't even do justice to because I got to understand a little bit from the ground of like, how do you actually make a product, not just conceptually, but actually, so. So yeah, so started there and decided on recycled fabrics as being a better option. Now there was there's been technology to recycle polyester for quite a while, you know, that North Face and Patagonia doing it with fleece, the ability to take it down into a finer fabric was not as prevalent back then. In fact, it was it was kind of a newer thing to have recycled, polyester 100% recycled. So I basically decided on that was going to be my was going to be the fabric, recycled poly mixed with recycled cotton because it still needed to feel like a T shirt. It could feel so different that people weren't, weren't willing to wear it's, you know, the same as it would a t shirt. So I needed to kind of feel the same it needed to be in somewhat of the same ballpark.

Brandon Dennison:

That's like the tension of a social enterprise, you know, the balance between you have this mission you're trying to achieve. But it's a market based strategy. So you can't get so far out in front of your consumer, that you're not in touch with the market.

Chris Yura:

Absolutely. And honestly, there were times when that decision was really hard. It was it was a hard decision. Because very, you know, especially in the formation of the business people regularly tried to pitch me on well, you can do it this way. You don't have to worry, you know, like, why are you doing it the hard way, essentially. And my whole answer was, well, if we do it that way, it just is we're not really doing what we say we are and it's just another business like you're not really trying to address stuff that we that I feel passionate about. So, you know, again, it's the harder road to home. But like, I think at the end of the day, I was really proud of what I was able to offer. And, sure, it was definitely bumps along the way. I mean, very sometimes giant boulders, but, but I was happy to sell what I was selling and through experience through trial and error, through some very patient investment. You know, we were able to start scaling the business and start working with some national clients and, and grow it.

Brandon Dennison:

Give us some highlights some of the clients.

Chris Yura:

So we started working with kind of early on, we got a contract with the Boy Scouts of America to do some stuff, then started working with Ben and Jerry's, we started working with Ford Motor Company as they started to really focus on the green technology. The concert venue, business was something that, you know, there's a lot of artists that are very passionate about the environment. So their merchandise, they wanted to kind of reflect that. So we're able to really tie into some of the artists driven merchandise companies, Reverb, which is a really big leader in that we got to do some big events like Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and Lolapalooza and then we started working with the manufacturers music really started opening up the doors. For us as a business, we started seeing that there, this community really cared about this. And fortunately, through some chance meetings, I was able to kind of get some, some one on one time with some CEOs that were decision makers and they started kind of switching over to our stuff. I think, this whole time, the licensing in college was always in my head. But I wasn't sure the angle in which how to how to do it and, and do it in a way that wasn't just a one off, like actually do it in a big way. So we grew the business, we started getting these college licenses, like Notre Dame and others that I think really didn't start focusing on sports. And so we got the MLB and NBA signed on, which were obviously giant contracts and giant clients.

Brandon Dennison:

And around this time as you're growing. It was Ray Daphner of the Appalachian Regional Commission, who connected you and I and I think part of the reason he thought to connect us is we were both trying to think creatively about how to develop a workforce in the recovery community. It was the connection that that he realized between us.

Chris Yura:

Exactly, yeah, I can remember where I was I was at, in Cleveland. Cavaliers stadium, actually, we were doing something. And I remember talking to Ray and him mentioning you kind of my nature is like I just I'll just call because you know, I can wait on the email, but I'm kind of in more impulsive type.

Brandon Dennison:

Sort of like a bulldog in that regard.

Chris Yura:

Yeah, I truly have. It's, it's, you know, my mom said it's the best badgerer she's ever met. Which I don't know if that's a compliment. But in certain circumstances that serves you well. And obviously, you know, for us it did. So, yeah, I think I didn't really, you know, again, when we connected it was it was really kind of unpeeling an onion. And the more that I got to know what coalfields was doing. It was so much of what what you saw was what I saw. And it just seemed like a natural thing, like how can we how can we work together? And how can we scale the bigger picture in a more effective way? So it was, yeah, it was one of those one of those conversations that that really turned the lights around. So

Brandon Dennison:

Absolutely. The first conversation we went way over with I think we we realized we shared a lot in common, very similar values, similar vision for the West Virginia economy, and Sustain U ended up coming into the Coalfield Development family of social enterprises. And, and then it has evolved into what is today Mountain Mindful, which is reclaimed recycled products, apparel, still also now some hats and beanies, and sweatshirts thrown in there self care products and home goods made out of recycled reclaimed wood. So totally check out Mountainmindful.com. And now, you know, some of the earliest origins of how that came to be.

Chris Yura:

Yeah, it's great. It's great stuff, too. I mean, I can attest to the, to how this has kind of evolved in the quality of the products. It's exciting where this could go and where it's going.

Brandon Dennison:

And we keep working together today. So Chris now leads something called our Seed F und Coalfield Development. I love you to tell folks about that.

Chris Yura:

For most entrepreneurs, the biggest hurdle is not necessarily a good idea or even the drive to get something done. It's it's money, you know, unless you come from a place where you have access to capital. You know, just having a good idea doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get a loan. And especially for that early stage entrepreneur. It can be a really big struggle. So the Seed Fund is a wholly owned subsidiary of Coalfield Development. And what we do is we invest smaller amounts of capital into some of these b udding social enterprises to help them in scaling their vision, to get them to that next level, where they can be either bankable or investable. You know, it's exciting work. There's so many great entrepreneurs out there. And the work that's been started, you know, prior to me coming on board is incredible. And it's really amazing what, what's out there, and what the Seed Fund can do. As we as we look to scale it. Y ou're doing a great job with it. And you've got personal experience, I think that really helps you connect with those entrepreneurs and support them. It can be lonely, too. I mean, startups, it's like exciting. But also, like, you know, you find yourself in your parents basement and try to pay vendors and it can be lonely, too, right? Yeah, I think it's, it's sometimes when you're an entrepreneur, you do feel like you're on an island. And especially if you're in a smaller enterprise, and it really comes down to just a couple people or even just one person, as you know, to it's, it's great to get the write up. Everybody patting your back. But you know, the reality of it is mainly , you're grinding, you're grinding, and you're stressed. Right. And, you know, again, I think all of us like through these journeys of creating social enterprises, like you've had your mountain tops, and you've also had your valleys, and everybody likes talking about the mountain tops, you know, and, but what I've learned in life is that people rarely relate to you and your strengths. They mainly relate to you and your weaknesses. And so being able to kind of talk through, you know, some of these situations with entrepreneurs that are maybe facing payroll, you know, payroll is coming up, how do we pay it? Thinking outside the box, I think one of my skill sets that I really think has grown very strong in the last 12 to 14 years is this contingency planning in my head, I think, if anything I can bring to the table is if something hits the fan, I think I can help figure a way around it. So

Brandon Dennison:

Think through them, pick the best one?

Chris Yura:

Right. Yeah, I think that's, that's a skill that you you know, I think it's a skill like, like a lot of things, I don't think you can get it unless you've experienced it.

Brandon Dennison:

Ben Eng who runs the I Center, he would call that effectuation. There's some research into, and it's a very rare skill set. And it's very common among entrepreneurs, this ability to work out different options, and to sort of do that in real time. It is a skill set, and it takes honing.

Chris Yura:

Yeah, that's, that's a cool word to that, that it's called. Yeah, no, I think it's, it's something that, you know, you don't I don't think you're born with it, I think you you may have, you know, some abilities in it. But I think to hone them, you have to go through it. And it is something that is a it's a, it's a quality that you can share with others to at least help them start the process as they're going through things. And, you know, again, as I mentioned before, I think the biggest challenge facing our region is really the access to capital for the for the startups. And sometimes, you know, you can really doubt yourself, if you can't fundraise, and the Seed Fund steps in, has stepped in, you know, to kind of help, you know, alleviate some of that. So some of these entrepreneurs can really just focus on what they're going to do. And I think it's a service that, you know, it's I wish I had it in 2009. You know, but obviously, my journey was different. But it's, it's great that we have it now. And I think there's there's just incredible things in the future for it.

Brandon Dennison:

Last question, what are some of the biggest changes you've seen in Appalachia? I think I mean, maybe since growing up, but actually, since becoming a social entrepreneur and founding Sustain U, I'd be curious to hear your answer to that. And then what are some of the biggest changes you're still hoping to see in the in the not so distant future?

Chris Yura:

The biggest change that I've seen, and this is maybe a general thing, but I think it relates to all of our work. I think I've seen a renewed, I think we've always had pride in where we're from. But I think I've seen it, not in a negative way, but in a positive way change in exactly. Yeah, instead of, you know, sharing kind of our sufferings but like being really proud of where we are from and what our families have done to get us here and some of the shared experience in a positive way, not necessarily just in the negative way. So I seen that change dramatically in the last 10 years, and so many people are, you know, they're representing West Virginia and Appalachia, in this really positive way of being a unique culture and a place they're from. And, you know, I think it only adds to, to our work because it, you know, a lot of the entrepreneurs are looking at these niches or these areas of which they could potentially start a business based on some of that, you know, kind of State pride or allegiance to the area or willingness to come back to the area to visit for tourism. So I see that growing and it's exciting. I think the thing I'd like to see more of is, I'd like to see an exodus back into the state. You know, I think, you know, unfortunately, we just keep losing population. And, and I know so many people are so passionate about West Virginia and about Appalachia. And my hope is that we can really carve out some industries for people to stay here and also to come back.

Brandon Dennison:

I just thought of one more question. I can't help it. Favorite Zoolander impression?

Chris Yura:

Favorite Zoolander impression? I think the Blue Steel comment is the one that I at least referenced, at least that I use most frequently. And it's used on me by my family and friends. And most you know, anytime there's a family picture, my brother will always say, are you doing Blue Steel? Like? It just it just goes without saying at this point? So yes, there's those Zoolander references will continue on for the rest of my life. And I'm proud of them. So

Brandon Dennison:

Well, Chris, it's quite a life journey that you've been on and that you're still on and that now you're including your, your family with and so it's fun to hear the longer version. And just keep it up, man.

Chris Yura:

I appreciate it you as well. You're an inspiration to the region. And I'm just so excited to see what the future holds. So I appreciate you guys having me on this podcast and look forward to working together and the years to come.

Brandon Dennison:

Absolutely. And everybody register for the Appalachian social enterprise Summit, October 3 and 4 here in Huntington at our west edge factory and on the campus of Marshall University. Thanks, Chris. Thank you. Change in the coalfields is a podcast created by Coalfield Development in the hills and hollers of West Virginia. This episode was hosted by Brandon Dennison, and produced and edited by JJN Multimedia become a part of our mission to rebuild the Appalachian economy by going to our website Coalfield-development.org. To make a donation, you can email us anytime at info at Coalfield-development.org and subscribe to our newsletter for more information on the podcast. You can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn by searching Coalfield Development. Check back soon for more episodes.