Going Solo

Black designers unveil the trials and triumphs of business ownership

specialty in the fashion arena when he started targeting athletes. “My clothes worked well for them, and they are proud to support a black designer,” he says. His intuition is paying off as sales revenues climbed to more than $3 million last year. The designer has two retail boutiques in the D.C. area, sells to more than 50 specialty stores nationwide and enjoys worldwide distribution with Lubiam 1911, one of Italy’s oldest and most respected manufacturers. In addition, Hall was recently inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America, next to industry heavyweights Bill Blass, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. And he’s a regular fixture on Style with Elsa Klensch on CNN, a fashion program seen by more than 20 million households worldwide. Despite Hall’s long list of accomplishments, the major department stores still won’t give his line any floor space. He says, “It’s hard for buyers to see beyond my skin color. They think of me as a black guy that can only sell to black consumers.”

Edwin Hall — Silver Spring, MD — 301-588-6223
Edwin Hall worked with his brother Everett Hall for 15 years before he broke into the industry with his own line. Now the Edwin Hall Style 2001 collection showcases high-end suits and sportswear. Prices for business suits range from $995 to $1,200. The sportswear starts at $250. His clients include business professionals as well as celebrity athletes. “It’s a collection that you would find on New York’s Fifth Avenue,” he proclaims. Unfortunately the half million dollar company hasn’t been able to penetrate the high-end retailers because “the perception is that when the [department store's] buyers purchase my product they think it will only sell to African Americans. But the clothing is for everyone.”

Torrel Harris — Unique Sports — Uniondale, NY — 516-229-2310
After leaving his job as a sports agent, Torrel Harris reentered the arena by introducing reversible warm-up suits for athletes in 1991.The apparel, which includes items licensed by the National Basketball Association and the National Football League, generated $3 million in sales last year. And Harris was able to build brand recognition by participating in trade shows, advertising in magazines and pumping radio advertisements. But all of these activities burned cash. “Booths at [trade shows] can cost a minimum of $2,500 each. Plus, you have to fly there and stay in a hotel,” he remembers. He says it was his creativity that helped him stay afloat. “I picked the stores that I wanted to be in and invited their buyers to stop by my booth. We also got our clothes in videos, television shows and hosted fashion shows. The big thing is that we were, and continue to be, consistent.”

Valerie Mapp — Knottitude — New York, NY — 888-239-KNOT
Valerie Mapp has developed a new line of travel sportswear with no buttons, zippers or snaps. Knottitude produces eight pieces of washable, wrinkle-free clothing that wearers knot up for comfort and style. The company has accumulated almost $200,000 in sales since 1996. The suggested retail price for the collection ranges from $250 to

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