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Apparel Approval

Apparel Approval

In an economy that’s been especially hard on the apparel industry, clothing designers and manufacturers will take any break they can get. So when basketball superstar LeBron James strode onto the set of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” wearing clothes by Cleveland-based clothing label Wrath Arcane, it was a high-five moment for Brian O’Neill.

O’Neill co-owns the Wrath Arcane label as well as two Brigade boutique clothing stores in Ohio. And having James wear your clothes on national TV—for free—is the retailing equivalent of winning the lottery. Not that the company needed the boost. The four-year-old Wrath Arcane label has weathered the economic downturn better than most; increasing its presence to 50 stores worldwide, including around a dozen in Japan and a handful in Europe. It rolls out a women’s line this fall.

For O’Neill, it’s been one surprise after another. O’Neill, a member of the Class of 2000, wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. The idea of opening a store came to him because he and his friends kept traveling to New York to buy their clothes. On subsequent trips, he noticed many stores had their own small labels, so he and designer Sean Bilovecky launched their own line. Store owners and fashion enthusiasts praise the line’s carefully crafted details and reasonable prices, as well as its insistence that all their products be made in the U.S.

In addition to the economy, Wrath Arcane has also faced the challenges that go with an expanding business. O’Neill has had to learn about inventory, accounts receivable, credit lines and other things beyond the cut of a pattern and drape of a fabric. But seeing people react to the clothes—whether it’s LeBron’s stylist or the legions of fashion bloggers who are among the label’s most ardent fans—makes it all worthwhile.

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