Fashion business veteran Gerard Murray has seen success both as an independent business owner with the School of Hard Knocks clothing line and with large corporations. After taking a brief hiatus from the industry, he resurfaced in the college licensing business as the president of Final IV Enterprises LLC, parent company of Tradition Ever Since.
With Tradition, Murray has carved out a niche by creating lifestyle apparel for HBCU’s. After severing ties with New Era in 2009, Murray and his partners—Carol Callender-Murray and Tim Gray—decided to take the independent route and the gamble has paid off. Tradition booked $800,000 in sales this past year and the company is projected to double that number in 2012. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Murray, who shared his five tips on how to make it as an independent in the fashion business. —Branden J. Peters
Maintain Your Vision
“A lot of people start out watching someone else and they try to mimic their success, but what works for one brand may not work for another,” says Murray. “If you have something that is viable to the marketplace there will be people who come to the table with help but they will ultimately want you to see their vision and it will end up compromising what you really want. I never really thought we took School of Hard Knocks [SOHK] as far as we could take it even though at our apex we did $40 million in sales [in a year]. With Tradition, there is no ceiling to our vision. We plan to expand licensing to home wear, footwear, etc. Know what you want to get out of it and don’t compromise that goal.”
Be Prepared For The Worst
“At one point in time your purchase orders meant everything, but because we’re in a recession and everyone is hurting, a big purchase order does not impress manufacturers as much as it once did,” Murray reveals. “There are accounts that either don’t have good credit, slow credit or no credit at all. When dealing with those type of accounts you cannot count on that money, so all of a sudden what was once a certain amount in billing has significantly decreased because of the accounts credit issues. Sometimes accounts back out of purchase orders as well. There are some small mom-and-pop accounts that pay by credit card or cash on delivery but most accounts operate on a net 60-90 day basis. It’s all part of the business.”
Don’t Expand to Fast
“Expand at your own pace. A lot of brands feel like that because they just sell T-shirts that they can’t compete, but that’s not always true. With SOHK, T-shirts were our core business and we filled in the collections with a few other pieces,” says Murray. “Growing outwards rather than upwards is counterproductive and can kill a brand. With Tradition, everyone plays his or her position and that’s why we’ve been able to expand properly. Small businesses need role players not dictators for the vision to widen. At the end of the day staying power is what separates a true brand from a line that is just hot for the moment.”