How a punch in the face helped launch my brand

New Yorker Leah McSweeney used $75,000 compensation from the NYPD to help launch her Married to the MOB clothing brand.

Leah McSweeney didn't enjoy "getting punched in the face by a cop", but she admits it was "good for my business". In 2004 the New Yorker was celebrating a friend's birthday when they were challenged by the police. McSweeney lost two front teeth in the ensuing fight, but was eventually awarded $75,000 compensation from the NYPD. The cash "helped lift my brand to the next level".

McSweeney started her 'Married to the MOB' (Most Official Bitches) fashion line in 2003. "I spent years doing internships for fashion magazines trying to get my break." In 2002 she eventually found paid employment as an assistant to stylists who prepare models for fashion shoots. "It sucked. The stylists had bigger egos than the models and treated me like rubbish." In 2003 she had the inspiration for her fashion line. "Lots of fashion houses started making clothes for men with strong statements printed over them I thought why can't women have that too?" She began with a few simple designs. "I started with T-shirts because they were the cheapest items to get off the ground."

Using a friend in the industry she printed small batches featuring slogans such as 'Supreme bitch' and 'Men are the new Women'. "There was so much confident clothing out there for men but nothing for wild, confident New York women to make a statement." So she hit the boutique stores in the fashionable Chelsea district of Manhattan. "Because I only had 100 shirts I had to be really selective and just choose a few stores." That was a good strategy. "I ended up choosing pretty cutting-edge, offbeat stores. It worked out well because the people who go to those stores are trendsetters and a lot of other people try to copy their look." Eventually the first batch sold and shops asked for more. Yet Married to the MOB was "barely breaking even. The problem was that because I was making so few shirts I wasn't getting a great deal on them." Indeed, McSweeney was still struggling when the NYPD compensation "changed everything". With the extra money she was able to produce other lines of clothing and buy in bulk. "It came at just the right time. I think if I'd had the money at the start I would have wasted it."

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She quit her day job and devoted all her time to Married to the MOB. "I didn't employ any staff but did everything myself. When I really needed help, I used friends." She arranged photo shoots but didn't pay models, as "I've got really hot friends". As McSweeney brought out more items, such as dresses and "sneakers", she approached more stores. Deals rolled in from "commercial shopping centres" and her brand moved to other fashion hubs, such as Los Angeles. Married to the MOB received another big boost when US pop star Fergie and Lady Gaga started wearing the brand. "I didn't go out and beg celebrities to wear my clothes, but it helped when they did." By 2007 sales were "worth millions of dollars" and McSweeney sold a stake in the company to a private investor. "I wanted help and needed a partner with money and business experience."

In the last three years sales the firm has signed deals with brands such as Reebok and Nike "we help them design cutting-edge sneakers". Next, "we're going to launch in London and Tokyo".

James McKeigue

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a certificate in journalism from the NCTJ. James has worked as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries.He also had a spell at ITV, as welll as wring for Television Business International and covering the European equity markets for the London bureau. James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.