Vital Stats: Michael Ball, 36, founder and designer of Rock & Republic
Company: Los Angeles-based denim clothing company
2004 Projected Sales: $22.8 million
Good Jeans: From his youth onward, Ball devoted time to designing everything from clothing to clocks, but he recently found himself working for a merchandising company that didn't allow his creativity and love of architecture to shine through. He designed cycling clothing in his spare time and also made a pair of jeans for his then-girlfriend, who received numerous compliments on the fit. When Ball's friend, who distributed products in Japan, wanted 300 pairs, the aspiring designer knew he had found his perfect fit.
Denim, Scissors, Rock! "I'm inspired ultimately by my background. I grew up in the music industry--my father's a musician--and I saw and experienced a lot of things that have been with me throughout my life. The biggest inspiration to me is rock. From there, I try to take my design sensibility of creating something that has a specific use. When I design, [my] drive is to make a woman's [behind] look even better. I want it to frame her."
The Newcomer: Because Ball's not "garmento" (someone who grew up in the industry), he's had to go up against seasoned competitors and has, at times, been kept out of certain international markets. "It's a whole big denim mafia," laments Ball. "Even the little companies are backed by big companies." Though none of his team has a garment-industry background, Ball finds that an advantage. "We don't have any bad habits. We're a lot more agile."
"When I started this company, I was coming from an architectural standpoint."
Going Global: His denim line is sold in Bergdorf Goodman, Fred Segal, Henri Bendel, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and more than 600 boutiques nationwide. And he's currently expanding beyond Canada, portions of Europe, Japan and the United States to northern Europe and the United Kingdom.