In honor of Black History Month, we’re looking at some of the successful brands built by African Americans. Guest writer Ben Rand takes a look Shark Tank favorite Daymond John.
Pocket money is all Daymond John was looking for when he started selling hats from his home in Queens in the late 1980s.
But before he knew it, he and his partners had created a brand that made history: the hip hop apparel-maker FUBU, (twitter.com/fbthecollection), which stands for “For Us, By Us.” It was one of the first brands truly focused on nascent hip-hop community, selling $6 billion in merchandise around the world before going on a roller-coaster ride through quickly changing habits and tastes.
In recognition of Black History Month, let’s take a look at how the African-American founders of FUBU built the brand into a phenomenon and what they are doing to keep it relevant.
John credits an activist streak for sparking his interest in apparel. In the wake of the L.A. riots in the 1980s, he printed shirts with messages in support of Rodney King. He sold them on street corners and during big events. “It showed me something about the reason people buy clothes—that when there’s an emotional slogan or an emotional connection, products sell quicker,” John told the Washington Post.
Validation came when he made some “tie-top” ski hats, based on a style he had seen in a video, which were also a street-side success. This taught John a valuable lesson: That he didn’t need another Rodney King to get a reaction. He just needed FUBU.
Getting the Message Out
John sought to make a statement with FUBU – that the world of fashion design had for too long overlooked the needs of people in his community and this new rap world. The idea behind FUBU was that the clothing was made by people who “got” these customers and their needs.
But how to get the word out? John bet on himself and a little bit of guerilla marketing. He began visiting video shoots and asking rap performers to wear FUBU clothes before the cameras. When he convinced LL Cool J to have his picture taken wearing FUBU, John had what he needed to go big time.
With the implicit endorsement of LL Cool J and other performers, FUBU took off. Its clothes hit the shelves in the United States and as many as 27 countries.
Today, the company is evolving with the changing times. The brand remains popular and also sells online. There have also been licensing deals, such as FUBU radio. Most recently, the company announced a brick-and-mortar comeback in an alliance with Century 21 Stores.
FUBU helped John turn himself into a brand name. He is now one of the stars on the hit television show “Shark Tank,” where up-and-coming entrepreneurs pitch their ideas in hopes of landing big investments.