Queen Tee: The Designer Who’s Beating the Boys

For this fall’s season, French artist Fafi, known for provocative paintings and recent collaborations with Adidas and LeSportsac, modeled MOB’s new collection for the Web site and lookbook.

Ms. McSweeney draws inspiration from the decadence of the 90’s, the classic styling of Chanel, the voluptuous rapper Lil’ Kim and especially New York, where she grew up (in Chelsea). After Ms. McSweeney left Convent of the Sacred Heart in eighth grade, her family moved to suburban Connecticut. She graduated from high school, kicked a drug habit (“I could not be sober in Connecticut,” she explained), then moved back to the city when she was 18. She hung out downtown in Washington Square Park and honed her attitude on brownstone stoops.

“I began to trip into Leah on a daily basis walking through my neighborhood of Nolita,” wrote Ms. Saizarbitoria, who met Ms. McSweeney in 2000. “Leah+ Rob were the mayors of Nolita sitting on their apartment stoop every weekend parked in front of another street store called SSUR. Leah held her 40 ounce in brown paper bag with tricked out nails, sporting gold doorknocker earring laughing and shit-talking on the street corner. She was the quintessential NY Irish street girl who can hang with the guys, but had her own femmed-up street style.”

Ms. McSweeney sued the city after she threw a water bottle at a police officer’s head and he subsequently attacked her. Five of New York’s finest were assaulting her friend outside Hammerstein Ballroom and Ms. McSweeney’s bullish Irish loyalty bubbled up inside. She took the $75,000 from the settlement, bought an Apple computer and painted her Spring Street apartment walls pink.

“I’m happy I got beat up now,” Ms. McSweeney said. “I’m like, ‘Great, I get to start my own business. Thank you, Mr. Officer.’”

Her apartment became the Married to the MOB headquarters, with regulars including her partner, Ms. Coyne; her model sister and MOB poster girl “Sweet 16”; and her teenage friend Tabatha McGurr, daughter of well-known graffiti artist Futura 2000, who became the voice behind Married to the MOB’s blog, MOB Living. Ms. Coyne left the company in the summer of 2005, after some power struggles with Ms. McSweeney.

“It was more fun doing it with someone, but whatever, I don’t like to share,” Ms. McSweeney explained. “There’s an upside to having your own business too. … You’re the boss, really. What you want to do, you do.”

“Leah’s not a designer, she doesn’t know how to use a computer, she doesn’t draw,” said Supreme’s production manager, Erin McGee, who was inspired to start her own line, MadeMe, after working with Ms. McSweeney on some cut-and-sew pieces. “She’s just really fucking smart at finding the best people to surround her with and manage those relationships. … She’s like, I don’t know anything about what I’m doing, but I don’t give a shit.”

Mr. Cristofaro also admires Ms. McSweeney’s boldness. “I loved seeing these girls just show up out of nowhere and just kill the game,” he explained. “[T]hey sparked dudes into trying to offer girls lines who never would have done that in the past because it wasn’t ‘cool’ to market to the women. They have made more noise in the streetwear market than 90 percent of the men’s brands out here, and they never made a men’s piece of apparel.”

“I felt like I need to be a feminist now more than ever,” Ms. McSweeney said, finishing a hummus and avocado sandwich made by her mother and nodding toward her own daughter.

“I really saw the difference of owning your own business as a man [and] as a woman,” Ms. McSweeney went on. “I know people like, oh, her boyfriend’s Alife and she knows this friend and that friend. And I’m like, how do you think these guys did it? Because they had their friends doing it. Why am I getting crucified doing it?

“I felt like this is the boys club … and I remember some guys, certain guys, just hating. And I was like, wow, this is really funny. I can’t believe it. I think people thought that it was easier for me because I had friends who were already in the scene doing it. But it wasn’t. It was probably harder.”

Ms. McSweeney works out of her apartment, packaging and shipping her own T-shirt orders, styling glamorous photo shoots for her line and trying to be the best mom to Kier in the short time between.

“There’s some days where you just never want to go to work again, and you just want to spend all day with the baby,” Ms. McSweeney said. “When you own your own business, your business is your life. It’s not like you go to work and then you leave at 5 o’ clock and then you come home. Here, it’s constant. … MOB is my life and I have to hustle harder.”

Queen Tee: The Designer Who’s Beating the Boys