By Kris Coronado
Sunday, May 16, 2010; W04
Jon Wye is rubbing two belts together inside his work shed at Washington's historic Eastern Market. The belt and alternative clothing designer has just discovered that a thin protective coating for his belts holds up quite well.
"I'm so excited," he says, beaming -- so much that you wonder what his reaction was like in February when he signed a contract to open his first store.
Wye already had a strong following when he was featured in The Washington Post last October. He launched his brand in August 2007, set up his Eastern Market tent and Web site (Jonwye.com), and locals were quick to snatch up his vibrantly patterned belts, graphic T-shirts, wrist cuffs, dog collars and more.
This month, Wye, 30, will expand by joining 59 merchants in Limelight Marketplace in Manhattan. Built in a 12,000-square-foot space that once housed a church and, later, a nightclub, Limelight is less mall and more hip menagerie of up-and-comers in the food, fashion and decor industries. Wye's neighbors include Grimaldi's (yep, the Brooklyn pizza joint Michelle Obama visited in March) and Brocade Home (a two-year-old home decor brand by West Elm founder Lisa Versacio).
For the first month and a half, Wye will work his 250-square-foot space solo, ringing up T-shirts, and measuring and cutting his belts to fit customers on site. When stock gets low, he'll call Jeff Ball -- a fan who became Wye's first full-time employee last year -- to send more belts from their D.C. workspace and shirts from their Alexandria-based printer, Dead Bat Designs.
Wye's career seems to be falling into place, he says, just as his personal life has taken a hit: A four-year relationship ended in October, and Wye's 10-year-old malamute-retriever mix, Fred, died in March. "It's definitely been the worst year and the best year of my life," Wye says.
But he doesn't have time to sulk. Recently, he was training Ball and brainstorming ideas for the rest of the store's custom-made furniture.
"I feel like I'm a Pinto switched with a Porsche engine, and the Porsche engine likes to run faster and hotter," he says.