When Sara Raynor met Zac Painter, each brought to their future marriage one of South Carolina’s very different iconic identities.

Sara grew up in Awendaw along the Intracoastal Waterway, a pristine natural realm where pelicans soared above and loggerhead sea turtles dug nests in the dunes.

Zac grew up in the Upstate town of Spartanburg, where his grandparents worked in the textile mills that once formed the state’s economic backbone.

Today, the mills are closed and the loggerheads endangered.

Sara and Zac Painter refused to bid either an easy farewell.

Instead, they are nourishing the futures of both through their young clothing company, Loggerhead Apparel.

“From dirt to shirt,” every aspect of producing their clothing, with its distinctive sea turtle logo, takes place in the United States, including in South Carolina. For an added bonus, they donate 10 percent of all sales to sea turtle conservation groups.

“It’s not just another logo brand,” Sara Painter says. “We want to make a difference, and do something different.”

Combining passions

Sara Painter’s parents wanted to settle down in a pristine natural world to work and raise a family. They chose Awendaw.

Her father, Bob Raynor, is an avid sailor and nature enthusiast who has written several books about the Cape Romain and the Bull’s Island areas where Painter spent her childhood.

She attended First Baptist School of Charleston, went to Clemson University and then met Zac at a Greenville marketing firm.

Both wanted to preserve the Palmetto State’s textile heritage and bring jobs back to South Carolina. Both also wanted to promote coastal conservation.

But how to combine the two passions?

“We started with wanting to bring awareness to products made in the state,” Painter recalls.

Zac had experience working in retail, and they’d both worked with retail clients in their marketing jobs, so they looked closely at apparel. When they researched the higher-end logo-conscious market, they found plenty of products based in South Carolina and others with coastal themes.

But none of the products were made here, or anywhere else in the United States for that matter.

“There was a significant gap there,” Painter says. “They were all made overseas. That’s where we carved out a niche.”

And who better to act as logo mascot than a loggerhead sea turtle, the much-beloved and endangered state reptile?

But that wasn’t enough. The Painters then decided to donate 10 percent of their sales, not just from profits but from all sales, to loggerhead preservation programs.

In late fall 2010, they launched the Loggerhead Apparel website (www.LoggerheadApparel.com) and quickly began hearing from people who wanted to place preorders or buy gift certificates to give as Christmas gifts.

“That was really something we didn’t expect,” Painter recalls.

The Greenville-based company created its first product, the company’s

signature Bellwether Polo, with a tag that read: Made in South Carolina, USA.

“It was something we were really proud of,” Painter says. “We wanted it to be a tribute to our state and to where we grew up.”

The Bellwether Polos are made entirely in South Carolina, mostly in the Florence and Gaffney areas. The logos are put on at the plant in Mauldin. The Painters even name their apparel colors after South Carolina places: think Bull’s Bay Blue versus Fort Moultrie Blue.

The product that was the hardest to get made in America?

Koozies.

After a long search, they connected with a Texas company that could make koozies out of durable wetsuit material. (Printing is done in South Carolina.)

They’ve also expanded their product line to include a range of T-shirts and, most recently, hats and belts. The new belts, handmade in Virginia, have sold so well that the Painters have struggled to meet demand.

Today, Loggerhead Apparel products are sold in more than 50 independently owned stores in 11 states. Local retailers include Grady Ervin & Co., an upscale shop on King Street that was one of the Painters’ first accounts.

“The products have done really, really well,” says store co-founder Chip Ervin. “When I first met with them, I was immediately interested for a variety of reasons.”

He liked that the apparel was high quality and made in America, even South Carolina, and came with the Painters’ compelling story.

“This is really a passion of theirs,” Ervin says. “It is genuine. It’s not just because it sounds good.”

Today, Loggerhead Apparel has shipped online orders to 40 states, including Alaska and Hawaii.

Sales are driven by several groups: conservationists along with consumers who want high-quality products made in America.

“We hear from more and more people who appreciate what we’re doing and are willing to buy our product over others,” Painter says. “ ‘Made in America’ resonates with just about everyone.”

Sales for a cause

Loggerhead Apparel has donated nearly $20,000 to sea turtle groups since January 2011, money that has helped save turtle nests and lives.

Most recently, in August they donated $5,000 to the S.C. Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital to purchase an i-STAT blood machine, which takes blood readings from patients brought to the hospital.

It is an initial assessment veterinarians perform on incoming patients. However, it used to take a few days to get readings back. With the new machine, they are available immediately.

“That could mean a matter of life and death,” Painter says.

Conservation remains important to the Painters in part because the couple often returns to Sara’s childhood home. Her parents still live in Awendaw, and she and Zac love to show off their 8-month-old son, Sullivan.

However, they also return to help sea turtle volunteers and to see their challenges firsthand.

“The work they do out there is phenomenal,” Painter says.

The clothing line’s success means success all around: for the loggerheads, the volunteers who toil for them and for American workers trying to keep textile jobs here in the U.S.

“We’ve really seen it resonate,” Painter says. “It’s been great for us to bring awareness to folks.”

Reach Jennifer Berry Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her at facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.