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

as popular a
s the celebrity,” says Murray.

Grassroots marketing is key for urban clothing entrepreneurs seeking success. Dwayne Lewis, CEO of the apparel company DADA, and his partner, Michael Cherry, began their business in 1995 with only a polo-style hat. The two men, who were living in the Washington, D.C. area at the time of the Million Man March in 1995, took advantage of the event to promote their product.

“We took a cardboard box, put the hats on the back, and sold [them] to people from all over the world. We realized that it wasn’t a fad,” says Lewis, whose company now features footwear, sportswear, accessories, and another fashion line, DAMANI DADA. Last year, DADA earned an estimated $50 million in sales.

Creativity and an idea can sometimes substitute for a lack of venture capital for those interested in launching an apparel company. Founders of PNB Nation started their company with $300 in 1987 while still in high school. Roger McHayle, Isaac Rubinstein, and Kahlil Williams, all former graffiti artists, began designing silk-screened T-shirts, selling them to friends. Since then, PNB Nation has been commissioned to design everything from movie sets to jackets for Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation” world tour.

Companies such as PNB have definitely tasted success, but to stay competitive, entrepreneurs must constantly update their product. Ralph Reynolds (photo above) began his clothing company, RP55, by designing a flashy logo for oversized T-shirts (see “Takin’ it to the Street,” Enterprise, March 2001). Today Reynolds has launched two new companies: Azzure Denim and Indigo Red, which feature sleeker designs. RP55 earned an estimated $50 million in sales last year.

“You have to not just be trendy but also track your consumer through a number of lifestyle changes,” says David Rice, founder of the Organization of Black Designers. “Ralph Lauren has something for every age group. He is selling adventure and activity, not just going out and partying.”
– Christina MorganDressed for Success
Whether it’s baggy jeans or men’s couture, hip-hop designers are making their presence known on runways from New York to Milan. They are demonstrating that, like movies and music, fashion is a strong thread that binds the Hip-Hop Economy. Who are the leaders of urban fashion? Who’s creating the hottest urban styles and trends? Here are a few of the bigger players in the apparel industry.

 

FUBU
CEO: Daymond John
Year founded: 1992
Gross sales 2001: $380 million
Apparel & accessories: Men’s, women’s, and children’s sportswear, footwear, outerwear, swimwear, watches, suits
Outlets: Nordstrom, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Foot Locker, Dr. Jay’s

Sean John

CEO: Sean “P. Diddy” Combs
Year founded: 1998
Gross sales 200:1 $250 million
Apparel & accessories: Men and boy’s sportswear, suits, hats, underwear, outerwear Big and Tall menswear
Outlets: Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Dr. Jay’s

Phat Farm
CEO: Russell Simmons
Year founded: 1992
Gross sales 2001: $175 million
Apparel & accessories: Men’s sportswear, cologne, deodorant, sneakers, outer-wear, hats, underwear, women’s sportswear, dresses, outerwear, lingerie, children’s sportswear, outerwear, hats
Outlets: Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Phat Farm NYC/Montreal

Rocawear
CEO: Damon Dash
Year founded: 1999
Gross sales 2001: $150 million
Apparel & accessories: Men’s, women’s, and children’s sportswear, outerwear, hats
Outlets: Macy’s, Dr. Jay’s. Available in Canada, Germany Austria, England, France, and

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