Rags To Riches

Hip-hop moguls use groundbreaking designs and star powerto challenge major clothing labels and become a forcein the $164 billion fashion industry

clothing company, said, “The synergy between [FUBU and Universal] will undoubtedly open new avenues for us to explore in the fashion and music industries.”

The marriage enabled them to develop innovative ways to market their products. For example, when it released its first CD, The Goodlife — featuring rapper and company pitchman LL Cool J — a red baseball cap with the FUBU logo graced its cover. At the time of the release, Macy’s devoted window space to the company to promote the new album, as well as unveiled its new women’s line, “Fatty Girl,” the name of a cut on the CD.

Other companies, however, will rely on the ubiquitous presence of their founders. For instance, the entertainment-oriented cable network E! developed a two-hour special on Combs, complete with a live taping of Sean John’s annual grand fashion show. As a result, the clothing line was exposed to 85 million viewers daily for four weeks, increasing awareness of the line in households that never heard of Sean John. Of course, the company engages in traditional marketing — promoting its annual fashion show and increasing advertising — an effort that has been budgeted at $7 million to $8 million this year, up from $4 million to $5 million last year. But having a CEO who is a superstar that “kicks it” with other big-time celebrities does not hurt Sean John’s fortunes. In fact, Combs regularly sends items to Hollywood stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, and Denzel Washington, who can possibly generate greater exposure for the line.

Combs and others have demonstrated that marketing, music, movies, and fashion will continue to be strong threads that bind the Hip-Hop Economy. And judging by the acumen and tenacity of these empire builders, hip-hop will not only be a part of the fabric of black entrepreneurship for decades to come but also tie African American participation in the business mainstream as well.

Urban fashion has never been an easy market to break into. And with celebrity-attached clothing lines such as Sean John, Rocawear, and Phat Farm dominating the industry, it may be harder now more than ever. But while the average entrepreneur doesn’t have the financial backing of music mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, a number of savvy individuals have found a way to capitalize on the urban apparel explosion.

“We rely heavily on a grassroots campaign,” says Gerard Murray, who along with his wife, Carol, created the apparel company School of Hard Knocks (SOHK). The Murrays came up with the clothing line in 1996 after developing a T-shirt imprinted with the words “Queens 7,”which paid homage to their local Queens neighborhood. “We have a good sense of what people want because, as retailers, we get opinions when our customers come into our store.”

Since SOHK’s inception, the Murrays have expanded their family-owned store and entered into a licensing agreement, making the company’s array of men’s and boys’ sportswear available nationwide. SOHK earned an estimated $22 million in sales last year.

“A celebrity line is only

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