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by Ron Orozco
FresnoBee.com

First-time customers at a kiosk in the middle of Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis usually have the same puzzled looks before saying, “Oh, this is Christian wear.”

The business, Word Wear, sells mainly young, hip, cool clothing that resembles the popular dark look worn by skaters, rockers, heavy-metal and goth kids.

“People walk by and I hear them repeat our name, but our designs are so unique they say they didn’t know we are a Christian store — and they mean it in a good way,” says Allan Kozak, who started the business with his wife, Trina, on Nov. 10, 2006.

Word Wear is one of several businesses in the central San Joaquin Valley crossing over into secular marketplaces, such as malls, with religious-themed clothing and other merchandise.

A short walk from Word Wear is the Hallmark card store at Sierra Vista, which this year began offering bright, trendy T-shirts made by Kerusso, a national Christian clothing brand. Hallmark displays the T-shirts prominently just inside its entrance so mall passers-by see them.

Some young entrepreneurs also are getting into crossover Christian clothing. Robert Sheakalee, 22, owns Apothecary apparel, which targets Roman Catholic parishioners, and Jeleesa Moore, 20, owns JaySports Clothing Co. that aims at young Christian women. Both Apothecary and JaySports are operated out of their owners’ homes; they sell their clothing on MySpace.com. And Word Wear is planning to offer Internet sales as well.

All three businesses also operate vendor booths at Christian events, as well as craft fairs and community festivals. Moore also has a special clientele with women at Judah First Church of God in Christ in Clovis, where she is a member.

The Kozaks, Sheakalee and Moore say they are in the business to make money and to provide alternatives to customers who, for years, have had to shop for religious-themed clothing just at religious businesses.

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