Being the CEO of a new fashion design business is not limited to sexy models, runways, and catalog photo shoots. It’s a risky business-and the models need to get paid!

sexy clothes

Gage Talent Agency models Kerrington Grabill & Kirk Edwards play in soft Mark Nelson Denim clothes. Photo by Isbill Photography of Lenior City, TN. Used with permission.

“It’s exciting and overwhelming,” says Knoxville native Marcus Hall. Eighteen months ago Hall launched Marc Nelson Denim from a spacious East Knoxville warehouse scattered with quirky antiques and a Baywatch pinball machine.  “Every three weeks I wake up in a panic wondering ‘what am I doing?!’”

MarcNelson funky warehouse

The Marc Nelson Denim warehouse has a fun and funky atmosphere.

This business is a long shot for Hall, a former Central High School graduate who went on to barber school and later began renovating houses.  I’m a gambler at heart,” Hall says, “and I don’t know where that comes from.”

At age 40, against the advice of his banker and experienced industry executives, he moved forward with his dream of becoming a fashion designer of high-end luxury denim jeans, jackets, and overalls.  During his exploratory trip of the Los Angeles garment manufacturing district, Hall says, “I was told to ‘stop and go home. That I had no idea what I was in for.’ But I just had to do it! This was a dream that would not go away. In hindsight I now understand a lot of what people were trying to tell me in the beginning!”

The easygoing Hall is candid and humble when discussing the ups and downs of working in this highly competitive industry during a bad economy. Hall shares 10 secrets of being a budding entrepreneur:

#10.  How He Started 

“I did research for a year before I actually got started,” Hall says. “I figured costs for a loan and I was way off! I talked to a banker friend and a financial planner and both of them said ‘don’t do this; it’s too hard.’ I used to live in Los Angeles and I returned there for a two week tour of the cut and sew factories and dye houses with friends who had industry experience in LA.”

#9.  Previous Work Pays Off

Hall’s years of renovating, selling, and renting homes gave him valuable skills and provided the needed collateral to begin Marc Nelson Denim.  Since creating his fashion business, he hasn’t completely abandoned his contracting tasks. Presently, his work load has dropped from 15 to 2 renovation projects per year.

#8. Friends Will Lie to You

Hall initially named his business Barely Denim. After working for 3-4 weeks with a graphic designer in Los Angeles, all Barely Denim logos and related business items were complete and printed. While celebrating this milestone with friends/associates over a few drinks, his friends finally confessed. They thought Barely Denim was an un-cool name for a men’s fashion line. “Why did you wait so long to say something?” he exclaimed.

MarcNelson logo on door

Logo by Todd Torso. All Marc Nelson Denim fabrics and products are made in the U.S.A.

#7.  Choose Your Business Name Carefully

 Hall admits he was thinking about women in wet skimpy swimsuits when he came up with the doomed Barely Denim name.(See #8 above.) Discontinuing the Barely Denim name cost him money and an additional four months to get back on track. Eventually, he combined his middle name with his stylish maternal grandfather’s last name and came up with Marcus Nelson Denim. The MN logo was designed by Todd Torso.

MarcNelson logo on pant

#6. It’s All About Marketing

Hall says, “You can have the best product on the market but if it’s not marketed correctly your product isn’t going to sell.” Hall hired a publicist before his first pair of jeans were sewn. “This PR firm had experience working with clothing lines for established companies, but they didn’t have experience selling jeans and directing traffic to an e-commerce website. I worked with them for the first 6 months. I’m just now getting to where I need to hire a publicist again.”

#5. Do One Thing and Do it Well

Hall says, “Based on the money I had available to begin my company, I was told I had to choose between creating a men’s or women’s clothing line. At the time, I didn’t have enough money to do both. Because I’m a man and I want to wear my own clothes, and women’s sizes are complicated, I chose to begin with the men’s line.” Hall also embarked on a variety of t-shirts and Henley shirts. Those products are now being liquidated because it is better for the company to focus only on the denim products and the company’s unique limited edition bolt belt. Hall’s women’s clothing line launched in May 2013.

Hall also keeps inventory low. He only produces 214 pairs of each style of pants he designs.


Marc Nelson Denim collaborates with local artisan Preston Farabow to make belt buckles out of used lug nuts from the NASCAR race track in Bristol, TN.

#4. Get Over Your Shyness

“I’m a shy person. I do well talking one-on-one, but I’m uncomfortable putting myself out there, but I have to do it,” he says. Hall has busted his chops making cold calls. Before taking a trip from Knoxville to Atlanta, he researched every clothing boutique along the way. He went door-to-do to promote his products. He says, “We got the runaround sometimes, but this strategy worked.” In addition to the local Marc Nelson Denim warehouse showroom, Hall’s products can be found in select stores in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Hawaii.

matt morelock

Former Knoxvillian Matt Morelock shows off his Marc Nelson Denim bib-overalls from his home in Hawaii.

#3. Monitor Your Product

“I’m still learning,” Hall says. “I’ve learned that selling on consignment is not a good deal. You can end up not getting paid. Stay involved with the stores carrying your product. Monitor those stores well and make sure you get paid immediately. You need to motivate the sales people in stores. If something’s not selling, suggest having a sale and refund the store the difference in price. Again, you need to get over your shyness to do this.” Hall also educates consumers and sales staff about the special care raw denim requires.

#2. Keeping it Local

Hall says, “Being here [in Knoxville] is important to me. I want to do work I’m proud of. I want my daughter to feel proud of my work. I took for granted how much good the [now defunct] Levi’s plant did for this community. I want to create jobs here.”

Hall’s warehouse employs four people. They work on designs, ship e-commerce, and sell from a small showroom in the foyer of the warehouse (staff will provide alterations while you wait).

A section of the warehouse showroom.

A section of the warehouse showroom.

Hall recently moved his manufacturing production from LA to L.C. King in Bristol, TN. He says, “Moving from LA to TN almost put me out of business. In Vernon, CA, everything you need to work in the garment business is located in one city. Their technology was superior because they manufacture thousands and thousands of batches of jeans. The technology in Bristol was slower. We were able to work through that, but there aren’t any incentives for better garment technology in TN because not many clothes are being made here. I also have some products fabricated in Georgia.” Marc Nelson Denim uses only material and labor from the U.S.A.!

Hall also hires local models and photographers. Local scenery is also featured in his catalogs!

MarcNelson_sewing machine

#1.  Don’t Skimp or Delay Getting a Professionally Designed Website

The public relations firm Hall worked with in the beginning of his fashion career managed to get Viggo Mortenson to wear Mark Nelson Denim in a photo shoot for Esquire Magazine.“This did nothing for me because my website was not available at that time,” he explains. Once his women’s line of clothing became available in May, he required a website update, and many months have passed, and it’s still not ready. Hopefully the website will be updated before the New York Times publishes an upcoming article about Marc Nelson Denim. “A professionally designed website is expensive, but it’s worth it. It’s worth starting out your business with a good website in place, especially if you deal in e-commerce.”

D'oh! Photo of Viggo from Marc Nelson Denim's Twitter page.

Viggo Mortensen rocking Marc Nelson Denim jeans and jacket in Esquire Magazine.  Photo from Marc Nelson Denim’s Twitter page.


Follow Marc Nelson Denim on Facebook.

© Debra Dylan, 2013.



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