Hip Hop on Top

Urban Fashion Designers Rule

features men’s suits in his Karl Kani Black Label line that retail from $200 to $1,000, and also manufactures jeans, golfwear, the KK2 women’s line and men’s leather that are sold in major department stores.

Kani was soon joined by top urban fashion design companies like FUBU, Phat Farm, Ecko Unlimited, Wu Wear, Mecca and Triple 5 Soul, which took the fashion industry and young America-both black and white-by storm.

“The fashion industry has been extremely receptive to the urban trend that’s dominated the marketplace for the past five years,” says Elena Romero, associate editor of Daily News Record, the news magazine of men’s fashion and retail. “While urbanwear may have started in the inner city, it is now mainstream.”

Kani, who says that his clothing is not created for any particular group, unreservedly agrees. “We target the person who wants to be fashion forward. The target is worldwide for everyone, and we have 20 different classifications of clothing to help us achieve those goals,” he adds.

With $350 million in sales in 1998, including licensing, FUBU, which stands for “for us, by us” and was started in 1992, now has worldwide consumer appeal and has become one of the obvious front-runners. Not long ago, brands like FUBU-marked by vibrant colors, oversize styles and prominent logos-could only be found in small specialty stores in black neighborhoods. Large retailers finally realized they were missing a great sales opportunity by not stocking clothing lines by urbanwear designers.

Now FUBU is regarded as serious competition for powerhouse brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan and Polo. Its line is carried in stores such as Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Dillard’s, as well as in specialty stores like Footlocker and Foot Action, and items range in price from $20 to $300.

Clearly, FUBU has wide appeal. However, there is no denying that its success sprang from its appeal to young, black men. With little money for advertising, co-founder and CEO Daymond John began by getting the clothes worn by stars of television shows such as In the House, New York Undercover and The Wayans Brothers. Getting celebrities like Will Smith, L.L. Cool J and Brandy to wear them didn’t hurt either.

“Major retailers have picked up a lot of these young men’s lines based on what celebrity images they’re connected to,” says Tiffany Ellzy, ethnic and youth marketing director of the Fashion Association, a New York-based, nonprofit marketing and public relations association.

Leslie Short, president of marketing, advertising and public relations for FUBU, says the four 30-something owners of FUBU spend a lot of time talking to the people who buy their clothes. “They are the consumers; they are out there in the clubs as well as in the boardrooms,” says Short. “They see the people who are passionate about the clothes.”

Like FUBU, urban fashion designers are making their mark by staying current with consumer tastes and demands.

“Phat Farm reflects the style and philosophy of our founder, Russell Simmons, who has unerring instincts for design and what’s hot,” says Marcie Corbett, president

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