Keep Your Cool

Start your own teen clothing and accessories business.

Hey! Did ya just hear that kaboom? That was, like, the explosion of the fashion and beauty market for teens. All these geezer designers--they're, like, 25 or 30!--are coming out with these way-cool products just for us: hair stuff, makeup, handbags, accessories, clothes . . . and, hey, we've got mucho dinero from our part-time jobs-and, like, maybe a little help from the parental plastic. Let's go shopping!

Thankfully, you don't have to talk like teens to sell to them. Nevertheless, a growing number of Gen X entrepreneurs are getting in touch with their inner teen and communicating with the junior market using the sweet language of commerce. And there are a whole lot of kids listening: By 2010, the number of teens in the United States alone will swell to 35 million, more than at any other time in history, according to Teen.com, a Web site catering to the interests of 42,000 young surfers each day. A Rand Youth poll estimated that teen girls spend $21.8 billion a year on clothes and beauty accessories. The children of the boomers are growing up, and they have been well-schooled in the joys of consumerism.

"The teen market is growing immensely; they're surpassing the baby boomers as the prime target for companies because they have so much disposable income," says Keri Singer, Teen.com's fashion and beauty editor. Kids between 13 and 19, especially girls trying to define themselves, have an endless appetite for new fashion and beauty products--and testing out new looks helps them satisfy it.

Enter entrepreneurial opportunity. Designers with vivid memories of adolescence-albeit with limited bank accounts--have jumped into the teen market, sneakers-first. Among them:

  • Greg Herman, 27-year-old president of Greg Herman Los Angeles Inc., designer of funky, retro-looking handbags. Although he has a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles, Herman was virtually homeless, carting around two suitcases filled with his worldly goods and crashing on friends' sofas, when he started the company in 1997. He maxed out his credit cards and got $4,000 from an angel investor to make samples, which he then took to New York.

"I put 40 handbags in a rolling suitcase and literally walked up and down the streets, stopping at showrooms," recalls Herman, who expects sales of $3 million this year and has recently added shoe, shirt and scented-soap lines to his collection. Despite the company's unconventional beginnings, Herman, a benefactor of homeless causes, sells his bags to catalogers and major retail stores like Barney's and Anthropologie. Celebrities such as Jennifer Love Hewitt, Courtney Cox, Calista Flockhart and Christina Applegate buy his bags, which retail for up to $50.

  • Matt Diamond, 31-year-old president of New York City-based Alloy Online, a site that sells the beauty products of other companies as well as its own line of clothing products under the Station Wagon brand name. He and two partners, Jim Johnson. 33, and Sam Gradess, 34, maxed out their credit cards and emptied their savings accounts to scrape together the $250,000 in capital for their 1996 launch. They lived out of a basement apartment, using the kitchen as a warehouse, and personally delivered customers' orders to the post office each evening.

They also created a small, inexpensive catalog and sent it to kids who visited the site. Today, more than 4 million people receive the catalog, and 3 million receive Alloy's weekly e-zine. In May 1999, the company, which employs 150 people, raised about $50 million on its IPO.

  • Desiree Langager, 34-year-old president of Girls Rule Inc. in Los Angeles, designer of apparel items promoting "girl power." The former designer of private-label items launched the business as a result of her commitment to the achievements and development of young women.

Langager started the business with $10,000 in personal savings in 1995, distributing samples of her T-shirts to stylists, wardrobe professionals and fashion magazine editors. Pamela Anderson even wore one of her shirts on Bay Watch. But a trademark dispute with a partner put Langager out of business for three years, setting her back $200,000 in court fees. Eventually, she re-emerged victorious and relaunched her label this past spring, essentially starting all over again, sending out product samples and going back to all the surf, skate and snow shops that had previously sold Girls Rule products.

Now working with up to 10 freelance designers and pattern-makers, Langager predicts between $1.3 million and $2.5 million in sales this year. Asked where she found the emotional fortitude to begin again from scratch, she replies, "I want to make a difference."

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Keep Your Cool.

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