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Mo Vaughn: Dressed for Success

Photographs by Chad Griffith

How does a former AL MVP and three-time All-Star get involved in the fashion business?
I’m not just coming off the street making something up. I started MVP Collections, a big and tall line, because as an athlete, I had some disposable income. I was having my clothes custom made. But I knew there was specifically a need for this. It may be big and tall, but we use the hot fabrics. It’s not just enough to make clothes that fit. Does it have the colors? Does it have the style and fashion? And that was what was missing. There was no style to it. We’re made in the USA. We source all of our fabrics out of Los Angeles, and with that, we’re able to change with the trend. It takes us about eight to 10 weeks to change things up. The fabrics are excellent. I wanted to bring an elevated look to the industry.

What were bigger guys doing that couldn’t afford custom clothing before this?
I had the means, but for guys that didn’t, I mean you would see three or four guys, and you knew where they were shopping. I wouldn’t say there was anything wrong with it, but you knew. Their options were so limited. That was the shame of it for me. Is no one really doing this? When we started this, we came out with basic tees and jeans, and nobody wanted any of it! They wanted something they had never seen before and couldn’t’ get. We started making animal prints. There were no moto jeans for tall guys; now we have them in all different colors. These guys are looking for color; they’re looking for fashion; they’re looking for everything.

How much did you know about fashion to start the company?
Everybody needs someone to execute the process. I had the thought and the capital. My partner, Diane Bennett, has been in the business for 25 plus years. She did plus-size women’s clothing before this. It doesn’t work unless you have somebody that knows the ins and outs of the business. Having my name helps us get in the door. I’m not a fashion guru. I had to get someone that knows the game to make it happen.

Were you a natural entrepreneur, or was it a hard transition after playing professional baseball?
You go from the bright lights, big city—I played in Boston, New York, LA—all big towns. All of a sudden, you wake up one day, and you have to figure out what to do so that every day, you can have some self worth. You need to have a reason to get up in the morning and get things done. I started my real estate company in 2004, the year after I left baseball and it’s still flourishing. You have to do things that are needed. Affordable housing was needed in New York, so that’s why it has succeeded. Big and tall clothing was needed across the country. But as an athlete, you have to really vet who you are working with. I got very lucky with the people I’ve been working with.

Did you do any groundwork on business while you were playing?
The groundwork is knowing that you’re not going to be an athlete forever. The hard part is when you get caught off guard. You think you are going to do this for the rest of your life. I played 12 years in the Majors. Some of my best friends in the game, made it to the Hall of Fame and played 18-20 years. Ultimately, at some point, you’re out there at first base or in the batter’s box, you have to realize that this in not real life, and you have to be prepared.

Were you building a network of business people while you were an athlete?
I’m a straightforward person, but ultimately, I’m a good person and a trustworthy person. When I got out of baseball, people knew that and didn’t mind aligning themselves with me. As athletes, you are not in the business of being an athlete. If you do it right, you arethe business— how you conduct yourself, how you treat people, and how you are able to articulate your vision. You need to be able to sit in the room with business people and be comfortable. I’ve dealt with every type of person. I have sat in an office with billionaires, and I’ve dealt with people who are less fortunate. But if you are able to be in that setting and handle yourself with style and class, you’ve got an opportunity to be in business.

Lots of Major Leaguers don’t go to college. Did going to Seton Hall help you prepare for life after baseball?
The greatest thing I ever did was go to boarding school. I went to upstate New York, all boys private school for four years. For me that was the biggest thing. When I got to college, I had already been out on my own. I have a son, and if he is good enough to play baseball, I’m going to send him to college. You need that experience to grow up.

Had you ever thought that you would be involved in real estate or fashion?
Like most athletes, you’re thinking of bars and restaurants with your name on it. I lost some paper on that. I was fortunate to find a guy who did some legal work for me. He used to talk to me about doing things that you can see—brick and mortar type stuff, so we got into real estate. After doing that, I started thinking about the big and tall world. I had no idea that I was going to be a real estate developer or get into fashion. These are things that come as you mature. You think very differently when you are 25 than you do when you’re 35 or 45. As you mature, you are going to find new things.

What advice would you have to other athletes looking to get into business?
Man, I was rolling along. I was hammering the baseball. I was the MVP in 1995. Was an even a better player in 1996. Went for the batting title in 1998. In 1999, I got hurt. Five years later, I was out of the game. So at that time in 1998, there was nothing you could tell me that would convince me that I wasn’t going to play another 10 years, hit 650 home runs and be in the Hall of Fame. But one injury, and this is how life goes.  And I’m out of the game, far short of everything I wanted to accomplish. It was me not knowing where I was on the baseball field in Anaheim. The ball flies over my head into the stands. I probably shouldn’t even have been running after it. I slipped into the dugout and landed on my ankle, tearing my knee up. And it was over. I was never the same. Whatever sport you are doing, the average career is only 3 or 4 years tops. Don’t wait until it’s too late. You have to be prepared for the unexpected.

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