If all we wanted to do is make money, we should have opened a liquor store," said Martin Paule, one of the three owners of Deva, a mail order clothing company in Burkittsville, Md., near Frederick.
Deva -- which means angel in Sanskrit -- is a most unusual mail order company by almost any standard. Its highest aim is not to make money -- although it doesn't shun profits -- but to bring serenity and peace to its customers and nearby communities, according to its owners.
Thus, the catalogue that Deva prints to promote its loose-fitting, free-spirited clothes is spiced with sayings of a philosophic nature. "Deva is a community of the heart," the catalogue says on one page. "We know that miles are no distance to the spirit. . . . "
"We think we're a little bit strange, but that's the beauty of being in business for yourself," Paule said. Paule founded Deva seven years ago with Nancy and John Coker. The three had been trying to establish a metaphysical bookstore in Los Angeles when John Coker's parents asked him to help with the family business in Frederick.
The three liked Frederick, though they quickly concluded it was not right for their bookstore. But by chance, the partners met a group of people recently returned from India with a batch of free-flowing, Indian-made clothes.
Through local sewing stores, Nancy Coker found women who were interested in sewing clothes at home, using Deva's patterns and pure cotton fabrics. Business began to take off, and the firm now has 13 full-time employes as well as the founders.
Initially, Deva sought customers through advertisements in such magazines as the Yoga Journal and the Vegetarian Times. But success at local craft fairs convinced company officials that there was a much broader market for their clothes, which include such items as drawstring "lotus" trousers, the "shepherdress," and the "kismet cloak." Now, the company advertises in mass-market publications, such as Smithsonian and Ms. magazines.
Today, Deva sells about $700,000 in clothing a year (some of it made by other manufacturers) and is earning a profit. But even unprofitable periods have failed to shift the company's focus exclusively to the bottom line. For instance, the company used to hire nearby residents to glue samples of cotton to cards that are included in each catalogue. But a local group of disabled citizens asked to do the job. Even though their price was 50 percent higher, the company decided to use their services. "It may have been a bad business decision, but we decided it was a good human decision," Paule said.