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Do you no? There's some wear and tear involved in successfully launching a T-shirt company.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

TEN YEARS AGO, NEW ORLEANS resident Ayo Y. Scott and three college friends each put in $35 and launched a small T-shirt company just for fun. "The only thing was, "I was doing everything, and I got tired of that."

Three years ago, Scott tried again. Taking it more seriously he began making custom screen-printed and hand-painted T-shirts. His design shows tree roots sprouting beneath a stylized fleur-de-lis (a symbol used in European and especially French heraldry that is popular in New Orleans). "I originally created it as a tattoo for myself," says Scott, who began selling the hand-painted T-shirts for $50 to $60 a pop. As the T-shirts took off and his capital grew, Scott used $3,000 from friends anal family to incorporate Noyo Designs (www.noyodesigns.com) and promote his graphic design and artwork, trademark his logo, and mass-produce a line of T-shirts to sell for $35 each.

Enlisting the help and business acumen of his good friend Marc Lundberg, the now 29-year-old Scott launched Noyo clothing in April 2008. Scott says he aspired to make Noyo clothing representative of the "language and culture of the city" by incorporating terminology, people, places, and foods that are uniquely New Orleans.

Translating customer wants into fresh designs that lure buyers away from established brands is critical for any apparel company, says Mike Black Yussuff, vice president of product development and brand management for Headgear Inc., a Virginia Beach, Virginia-based parent company for apparel brands Blac Label Premium and Blac Label Pink. But keep in mind, most customers want what other streetwear companies already sell. "If you just copy that idea, what's the point?" Yussurf says. "The customer will continue to get that aesthetic from the brand they're already buying."

And the Noyo brand has resonated well; Noyo clothing earned $20,000 in 2008 solely through word-of-mouth alone. Scott has since stepped up his marketing efforts but keeps costs low; sending product updates via Facebook and paying $50 to $1,500 for booths at local arts festivals. He also barters graphic design work for help designing and maintaining the Noyo Websites. Currently sold in two retail shops in New Orleans and one in Atlanta, the streetwear line includes embroidered hats and thermal shirts as well as bandanas. This fall, Scott hired an assistant (on commission-based pay) to bolster his marketing and retail efforts. Yearend revenues approached $30,000: Scott says he's just past breaking even. Looking at Noyo's efforts and returns, Scott says, "It might not seem like a lot, but it's a start."

STREET SMARTS

Strategies for growing an apparel company:

Choose your partner.

Apparel industry veteran Mike Black Yussuff believes the most successful clothing lines are run by a split partnership: creative and money. While one side handles designs and marketing, the other oversees sourcing, revenue, and expenditures.

Trademark your wares.

The trademark registration process can be expensive and complex. Familiarize yourself with the process using resources from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov); then hire a trademark attorney to help you decide what kind of trademark protection works best for your company.

Utilize your sources.

To gain retail contacts in the U.S. and abroad, use trade shows to establish relationships with companies that source fabric and materials directly to different brands. Sources range from business to business and e-commerce to contemporary and boutique. Three of the largest fashion and apparel trade shows include: MAGIC Marketplace (www.magiconline.com), PROJECT (www.projectshow.com), and POOLTRADESHOW (www.pooltradeshow.com).

PHOTOGRAPH BY JACKSON HILL
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Title Annotation:STARTING UP; Noyo Designs
Author:Aaron, Letita M.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2009
Words:591
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