Livin’ LRG

Cruz, Sherri

Apparel Maker is Big, Fast-Growing; Straddles Worlds of Surf, Skate, Hip-Hop

It’s all about the duds for Lifted Research Group Inc.

Better known as LRG, the company designs clothes from its Lake Forest headquarters that appeal to hip-hoppers and skateboarders alike.

In doing so, LRG has crossed apparel’s big divide-the gap between West Coast styles inspired by surfing and skateboarding and edgier East Coast street wear rooted in rap music.

The company’s founders are as eclectic as their clothing line.

Robert Wright is an affable, burly guy with lots of curly, unkempt hair. Then there’s Jonas Bevacqua, soft spoken and jeweled in a thick rope necklace and diamond earrings and rings.

LRG had sales of $175 million for the 12 months through June, making it the second largest company in the top 10 of the Business Journal’s fast-growing private companies list.

It ranks No. 7 with two-year sales growth of 430%.

Most of the company’s 125 workers are younger than 30. LRG also is one of the most ethnically diverse workplaces in Orange County.

The company recently made Entreprenuer magazine’s “hot 500” list and has been on fashion trade publication DNR’s “Power 100.”

Rival brands include Live Mechanics, Rocawear and Coogi. LRG also competes with upstart brands, such as Crooks & Castles and 10.Deep.

LRG does about 15% of its business globally in some 40 countries. The East and West coasts each make up about a third of U.S. sales, with the remainder coming from the rest of the country.

Outside Investors

The company has two outside backers, Charles Moothart and Ron Ghenender. Neither are bigwigs in the industry, just investors and fans of the line.

Wright and Bevacqua said they wouldn’t mind if a big company like Nike Inc. came knocking someday. Giant clothing companies often snap up niche apparel designers to add to their mainstream brands, like Nike did with Costa Mesa’s Hurley International.

As LRG grows, it faces the challenge of appealing to the masses without losing its edge. Even Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has its own version of hip-hop clothes called Exsto.

LRG’s founders don’t think of the company as an urban or hip-hop clothing maker.

“It’s more about outfitting us,” Bevacqua said. “We’ve never chased trends.”

Rapper Kanye West is the most high profile LRG fan. He even models in LRG’s catalog and appears in its promotional DVDs.

LRG’s design is influenced by ska, reggae, punk, emo and heavy metal music, among other things.

Kids’ taste in fashion has become more eclectic, according to Bevacqua. They’re more willing to mix it up with varied colors and patterns, he said.

The company is something of a hybrid. It advertises members of its skateboarding team in hip-hop magazines. LRG also is in basketball magazines.

LRG sells in Zuraiez, Active Ride, Karmaloop, Eastbay Catalog, Macy’s and independent skateboard and clothing shops.

One place you won’t find LRG: Anaheimbased Pacific Sunwear of California Inc.’s demo stores, which sell rival hip-hop brands such as Rocawear, Ecko and Coogi. The mix of the brands at demo doesn’t fit LRG, Wright said.

LRG puts out 50 to 60 new designs a month. Some companies hang on to their best selling products, Wright said.

“We would rather just move on,” he said.

Bevacqua’s design sense comes partly from his family life. He grew up in a family of eight, seven of whom were adopted, all of different ethnicities.

Wright and Bevacqua designed every item up until a couple of years ago, when LRG got too busy. Now they have a design team. Most of LRG’s employees are friends and friends of friends.

Last year, LRG launched a women’s line called Luxirie (lux-eye-ree).

We wanted it to have its own identity and not depend on the men’s success,” Bevacqua said.

They’d like to build it up to be as popular as Huntington Beach-based Quiksilver Inc.’s Roxy brand. But the women’s line has been decidedly harder than the men’s.

For men, clothes can be loose and measurements don’t need to be exact, Wright said. But for women, clothes need to fit.

“We’re still finding our perfect spot with the line,” Wright said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Copyright CBJ, L. P. Oct 1-Oct 6, 2007

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