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| HEARD ON THE BEAT / RETAILING

Colours Faded, but He's Back With a New Line

October 30, 1998|GEORGE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carl Jones, co-founder of Cross Colours--a hip but poorly managed urban clothing label that went out of business four years ago--is attempting a comeback.

Jones has launched Juke Joint, an apparel line that includes shirts, sweaters, vests and dark-colored jeans. Two chains--Miller's Outpost and Mr. Raggs, which operates in the Midwest and Northwest--plan to test the line in 10 stores each.

Jones has a marketing strategy, but this time he isn't relying solely on rap artists. His Los Angeles-based Jones Juke Joint has recruited urban "spoken word" poets who perform at clubs and coffeehouses in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Jones provided the clothing worn by the rap group Digital Underground in a recently produced music video.

Jones' new company must vie for business in a youth market that is much more competitive. Scores of new companies have introduced hip, colorful clothing lines since the rise and fall of Cross Colours.

Designer Karl Kani, who produced his own line of clothing for Cross Colours' parent, the now-defunct Threads 4 Life, has a successful business. Fubu, a New York-based label, is hot in urban areas. And rap artists such as Sean "Puffy" Combs are now releasing their own clothing lines. Some of those performers made appearances at a music-fashion trade show sponsored by Vibe and Spin magazines in New York earlier this week.

Jones said he isn't worried about the competition.

"There's still room in the market for good lines if they are well-promoted," he said.

Jones' Cross Colours was among the labels to use rap artists in promotions. Young consumers, impressed with rapper support and attracted by the line's baggy look, bold colors and oversized logos, made Cross Colours one of the fastest-growing companies in apparel trade history.

Cross Colours' sales rose from $15 million in its inaugural year of 1991 to $160 million in 1993, rocking the fashion world until 1994, when Jones closed the business--mortally wounded by poor management and the failure of a retail chain that accounted for 60% of its sales.

Jones said he is better prepared this time.

"I'm much more knowledgeable and experienced," he said. "I've learned not to put too many eggs in one basket. I now know that you can't allow one retailer to control too much of your business."

George White can be reached via e-mail at george.white@latimes.com.

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