Chicks Rule

Or at least hold their own in Vegas

The company also has clothes for girls who prefer something a little more clingy. There's the rubber stuff. And the Marilyn Monroe-esque white halter suit. Plus, wardrobe staples like cargo pants and shorts. And, of course, the T-shirts that launched it all with clever Chicks Rule logos.

"People look at it and are like, 'Why didn't someone think of that sooner?'" Mackey surmises. "People say to themselves: 'Chicks rule. Yeah, they do.'"

Chicks certainly hold their own in Vegas. The Chicks Rule booth is a hub of activity. Two girls adorned in sequined cowboy hats and black-leather hot pants stop by to get glittered from Chicks Rule's non-clogging glitter spray-the most popular item in the company's cosmetics line.

"We were known as 'the glitter stop' at [the Action Sports Retailer show (ASR)]," Ivins explains.

A few owners of head shops stop by to see about carrying Chicks Rule merchandise. But Ivins and his partners like seeing their merchandise hanging in Nordstrom, and Nordstrom presumably wouldn't like seeing the same Chicks Rule hot-pink fur or red-hot-flame bikini at a local stripper shop. The company politely declines overtures from the head-shop boys. The company also steers clear of lower-price chain stores such as Clothestime, Styles for Less and Claire's since the higher-end junior stores they see as their bread and butter don't want to appear comparable to a discount store.

So, let's review. Chicks Rule, a 2-year-old clothing line, is turning away accounts, being pursued by manufacturers, and negotiating with Hollywood.

This from a T-shirt.

Business is good.

Joe Ivins has a dream.

"I'm excited for the day when we can come here by plane, walk in and the booth is all set up for us. And we just get to do our deal, and then, when it's over, say, 'See ya, guys!' And we're back on the plane."

That's the dream. Here's the reality.

"Coming here in a U-Haul truck, setting it all up, taking it all down, driving with something sticking up the seat board with my tailbone killing me. That's just not fun," Ivins says. "But that's what you've got to do."

Ivins worked for surfwear god Shawn Stussy and eventually manufactured his own startup line, Imperial. That's when he met Mackey, who had attended LA's Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. They initially started dating and would go to LA's Melrose district to indulge in their favorite pastime: shopping. And Ivins was doing just that when the light bulb that started it all lit up.

Ivins and a friend were walking through a mall when he saw a shirt proclaiming something or other ruled. He turned to his female friend and asked, "Wouldn't it be cool to make a T-shirt that says, 'Chicks Rule'?"

So Ivins designed a logo and had the T-shirts made, figuring it to be a one-shot thing-something he would hand out free to friends. But the shirt became so popular that it soon became clear that he was in for more than he had hoped for, something he'd be crazy to walk away from.

Enlisting Mackey, the pair set about designing a women's clothing line as part of Imperial. But the response was so big, so immediate, that Imperial was soon set aside, and the pair looked to broaden Chicks Rule. When the romantic part of their relationship eventually fizzled, they still shared an interest for business and fashion.

In 1997, Mackey and Ivins met Zant, the owner of a San Luis Obispo accessories company who brought to the company a knowledge of manufacturing and the cosmetics industry. Mackey and Ivins had a booth at the 1998 Vans Warped tour and the U.S. Open/OP Pro. Festival-frenzied buyers went crazy for the stickers, though many of the men's lines they ran into on the tour ridiculed their name. Nonetheless, the public response convinced them they were on to something, and in the fall, they launched their joint clothing-and-cosmetics line at the ASR show in San Diego. Despite being relegated with the rest of the smaller firms well away from the main floor, Chicks Rule left with scores of orders from such big names as Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, Hot Topic, Wet Seal and Charlotte Russe.

"It's hard work," explains Mackey as buyers walk by, eyeing the line through the chaos of the Magic trade show. "It's like being on a roller coaster: everything is great. Then the next day, all the manufacturing seems to be going wrong, the colors of the makeup aren't what you wanted, buyers are calling you saying this and that, and we have deadlines to meet. So it's just up and down.

"I'll love it when we get to a point where I can go out and make a line when I've got all the fabrics I want. When you're a new company, you have to do everything economically. I'll use a fabric-but I'm going to do it three ways so that I'm utilizing everything I have. And I've made huge mistakes with different things, like making things that didn't stretch the right way." Or the time they made a whole batch of pants that came out too short.

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