Michael Ball is the founder and chief executive of Culver City's denim-based fashion house Rock & Republic Enterprises Inc. As a bright but troublesome youngster growing up in Las Vegas, Ball got in fights and even did some brief stints in jail. But he says today that his roughneck background helped him break into the tough world of high-end denim in Los Angeles. Along the way, Ball claims rivals tried to keep him from succeeding and that he even received death threats. That, he said, made him want to succeed even more. Rock & Republic is on a roll these days, and R & R;'s show in New York was the talk of Fashion Week. That's no small feat for an L.A. fashion house, particularly one that specializes in denim. Ball is launching a clothing line that will channel all of its profits to the City of Hope cancer research foundation. Typically, Ball takes some tough shots at his corporate colleagues, whom he believes don't give enough. Ball is a semi-professional athlete and manages his own 14-person cycling team, complete with corporate sponsors.

Question: You started designing products as a kid. What was your first?

Answer: Digital clocks were some of the first. I would have the mechanism from a digital clock company and I would create the casing. I sold them door to door for about $20.


Q: Then you started your first business at 13, digging trenches for a Jacuzzi installation company owned by your cousin. How did that come about?

A: I had studied architecture since I was very young and I could read a blueprint. His guys weren't reading the blueprints correctly and they were making mistakes, so I went to him and said "I can do this. Give me a chance. I will charge you $50 plus lunch and a jug of water." The first day, he came back and I had dug a hole and trenches and everything was precise. He hired me for the next three summers and I put that money into my future businesses.


Q: But you still found time to get in trouble?

A: Teachers and doctors couldn't understand how I could be so bright and be in so much trouble. I could explain relativity to my little sister and then go out and get in a fight and get kicked out of school for breaking someone's limb.


Q: But that's helped you get where you are now?

A: I've been able to channel those intensities into business. It's a tough business. It's ruthless.


Q: You grew up with limited resources. What were some of the consequences?

A: I came from nothing. We were on welfare. I went to 12 different schools between elementary, junior high and high school. We didn't even have a color TV until I was 16. I went to jail a few times when I was very young.


Q: Your parents divorced. How did that affect you?


A: All I knew was that it was hard. My mother is Mexican and my father is very white. His family never really accepted my mother and sister or me. We were pretty much alienated from that side of the family, but it made me who I am today. I'm tough, I go after it and I don't know the word "no." It's a good thing and a bad thing.


Q: When is that a bad thing?

A: Sometimes I need more people that tell me something can't be done, because I'll keep going, creating and pushing.


Q: You got involved with City of Hope when they approached you for their annual philanthropic award. What are you doing with them?


A: I've created a product line in which all of the proceeds will go to City of Hope for genetic research. In addition to that I've brought in and aligned my partner on the retail side and they're giving their proceeds to the cause.


Q: What do you see as the problem with philanthropy in this country?


A: Charities never receive the full amount raised. If they did, things would get done, cures would be had, research would proceed at a quicker pace.


Q: You've voiced strong discontent with Project Red, an initiative to partner with American corporations to combat AIDS in Africa. Apple, Motorola and Gap have signed on to give away between 4 percent to 50 percent of the profits of their Red-branded products. What's your beef?


A: It's not enough. Honestly, how much more money does an individual need? If you look at someone who, say, runs Apple and has a plane and a house. Explain to your shareholders what it's about. That goes for Gap and Motorola. Shame on them.


Q: How do you balance all of your commitments?


A: I compartmentalize. That's the best way. I could walk into this office, have this interview, walk out and discipline someone who didn't do what they were supposed to do, take them out to lunch, come back and design a line.


Q: What's your typical day like?


A: I'm at the office until 10 or 11. I get up early, about 6:30 or 7 and then I'm on the road biking by 7:30 or 8 and I train for a couple of hours. Then I eat and then I'm on the phone with my headset throughout the day. I do interviews on the bike or at the gym. I work e-mail first thing in the morning and I have a first morning meeting at about 9, looking at what's happening in Europe and Asia.


Q: You designed a pair of jeans for a former girlfriend that led to an order for 300 pairs from a Japanese distributor and launched Rock & Republic. Was it as easy as it sounds?


A: This is not brain surgery, but if everybody could do it they'd be millionaires. I market the company as if it were entertainment because it is.


Q: You also worked as an actor but moved over to fashion. How come?


A: I learned that if you're a producer, then you're the one dictating your destiny. At the time Mossimo had just gone public and was worth $380 million, while Spielberg was worth $40 million. Today Ralph Lauren is worth $18 billion, while Spielberg's worth $80 million.


Q: So much of the high-end denim industry seems to emanate from a few families. You've said that some of these people threatened you and tried to interfere with your business. What effect did that have?


A: When we were young, they saw this company becoming a threat, we were hit with death threats, barriers to market, being ripped off and all associated with these individuals with a long history in the denim business in Los Angeles. I liked it. It made me want it that much more and work harder. In the end, they say, success is the sweetest revenge.

Q: What's the best advice you've ever gotten?


A: My father said either be very rich or poor. On those two ends of the spectrum, it doesn't matter what you do, you don't have to worry about it. When I was racing bikes, I didn't worry about anything but eating, sleeping and getting to the next race. As the wealth has come, I still don't worry and I sleep at night. He also said you'd be lucky if you have one good friend. As this company has grown, everyone has shown their true colors.


Q: What's the best advice you can give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?


A: Have a great product and a good business mind. If you don't have those two things, you won't be successful. If you don't have a great business mind, find a partner you can trust. They'll probably rip you off. I've seen it time again. And market, market, market. If you don't understand marketing get a day job.


Q: You use curvy models compared to some of your competitors. What do you think of regulations mandating a certain body mass index?


A: I want a woman and I want to see every side of her, not a starved teenager. It goes back to responsibility and ethics. If I see a girl who comes in and looks like she's in trouble and on the verge of being anorexic, I'll take her aside and say "You need to speak to somebody and you need to eat."


Q: Do you think about taking the company public?


A: It's a possibility. We've had overtures from equity firms and investment firms to get involved with us. The motive would be purely for retail.


Q: What are you waiting for?


A: Revenue, and knowing that the infrastructure is there to control the growth. If you don't have the infrastructure, the IPO means nothing but a big party. We want to make sure that everything is in line and ready because there is more than one company that went out there and fell flat because they couldn't deliver after the fact. I want to make sure if we're doing $800 million one year, we're set to do $1.2 billion the next year and $2.2 billion the next, instead of struggling and scrambling to build infrastructure.


Q: Several young brands, such as Seven for All Mankind, Juicy Couture and True Religion are attempting to transition into lifestyle brands. What sets R & R; apart?


A: I market. I create. I consider it an entertainment company. I'd market anything like that, an energy drink, a handbag or a new CD. You have to market in a way that makes others covet it and want it. If you don't, then go home. We're vying for an entertainment dollar.


Q: Your fashion shows have been well received for years. How do you think that's helped your brand along?


A: The initial shows were about pushing this idea that it's not just a denim brand. It was how cool we are. We'd flip people off. As the industry in Los Angeles has matured, and we've matured and I've matured it's about pushing the fact that we're a brand. We can go to New York and play with the big boys. Now it will be about pushing the fact that we are a fashion house.


Q: What is R & R; doing to prevent piracy? Are there any measures you would support or legislation that you think the fashion industry should support?

A: We spend a lot of money to combat it, but if there's a will there's a way. Those that can afford the product will buy the real thing. Fortunately enough, Rock & Republic pushes the envelope in design and on the creative side of the process so that counterfeiters can't keep up with us.

Q: How much can a successful designer expect to make in L.A.?

A: Billions.

Michael Ball
Title: Founder, chief executive
Company: Rock & Republic Inc.
Born: Las Vegas, 1968
Most Influential People: His aunt Pinky and his uncle Bob
Hobbies: "Building, building and building"
Personal: Single, lives in Marina del Rey

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