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Chris Jones
 

Sweet Chastity

15 February 2005

The proverbial sore thumb had nothing on Yvette Thomas early Monday.

Situated within a booth at the Men's Apparel Guild in California trade show, Thomas' line of pro-abstinence apparel stood out -- and then some -- at a biannual gathering known for an abundance of models wearing so little that passers-by could easily forget they're attending a clothing showcase.

As Thomas quietly hawked her company's T-shirts and panties adorned with slogans such as "Virginity Lane: Exit When Married" and "No vows, no sex," countless attendees strolled past nearby booths sponsored by sex-charged cultural icons like Playboy and actress Pamela Anderson.

A few yards away, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based clothier called Fantasy Group drew stares by placing underwear- and boots-clad models inside a clear plastic box as tracks by rapper 50 Cent professed a love for selling crack and turning young strippers into prostitutes.

And though those others seemed to attract more attention by promoting skin and sin, Thomas remained undaunted.

"We have so much of the opposite out there, sometimes we have to remind ourselves what our values are," said the thirtysomething-year-old entrepreneur and founder of Wait Wear, a Los Angeles-based clothing company. "A number of people have walked by and said, 'I like your message.'

"Even though there are a lot of different messages going on here, I'm learning I'm not the only one out there" who supports a pro-abstinence message for youth.

A Realtor by trade, Thomas launched Wait Wear five years ago using money she'd earned by selling her home. Without prior fashion experience, she slowly built her company through a combination of online sales and displays at youth-oriented events.

This week marks Wait Wear's first appearance at MAGIC Marketplace, where Thomas hopes to complete deals that could soon place her products in retail stores favored by many teen shoppers.

"I wasn't ready (to go mainstream) before," she said, citing past issues with manufacturers. "But based on online sales and interest I've received so far, I'm on track to break even in the next three to four months."

So far, she's found her 20 or so products appeal to teenagers and, less surprisingly, their parents.

"The first pair of underwear I sold was to a father who wanted them for his daughter," Thomas said.

Michael Wood, vice president of Northbrook, Ill.-based, Teenage Research Unlimited, said Monday he's pessimistic Thomas' line will gain a large following. Regardless of the theme, his company's research shows teens have in recent years shifted away from message-oriented clothing.

"Today's teens aren't looking for their clothing to be a billboard for what they believe in," Wood said. "Graphic T-shirts are still very popular, but the most-popular ones seem to be humorous."

Despite naysayers, Thomas said she's already found customers from across the ited States, Europe and the Caribbean. She became an abstinence advocate to send a message to her three sons, ages 17, 11 and 8. And while some have dismissed her message as purely religious, she believes it also has sociological value.

"My relationship with my sons' father wasn't something I wanted to model ... and I think it makes a difference to have two parents in the household," said Thomas, who never married but said she's now abstinent.

MAGIC Marketplace runs through Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It is closed to the public.