Backtalk with Daymond John

The "Godfather of Urban Fashion" shares key lessons on branding and entrepreneurial success

John is successfully rebranding his fashion line

Businessman and self-made millionaire Daymond John is best known for his ’90s clothing line FUBU—“For Us, By Us.” Most recently, the New York City native appeared on ABC’s popular reality series Shark Tank, where he listened to investment proposals from budding entrepreneurs. The “Godfather of Urban Fashion,” who offers his marketing expertise to some of the world’s leading companies as well as celebrity and business figures is also the author of The Brand Within (Display of Power Publishing; $14.99) and Display of Power (Thomas Nelson; $24.99). John joined Black Enterprise in Atlanta at this year’s Entrepreneur’s Conference and provided attendees with tips on the importance of branding.

You’ve invested in several businesses. What should business owners keep in mind when they’re looking for money from an investor?
I’m here to invest in you, not to train you or teach you. We judge you within the first minute of seeing you—we brand you—whether we’re going to do the deal or not. If I’m going to be a partner with someone for the next year or the next 40 years, the first thing I want to know is, “Do I want to be in business with this person?”

So, you brand people almost immediately. How important is your personal brand to the success of your company?
You’re a brand from the day you’re born. Even before you get to be in a corporation or a business, people invest in your personal brand. Your mind is your product, your actions are your packaging, and the results and your history are how you advertise what you are as a person. Branding is made up of four components—well, three—and you’re lucky if you can get to the fourth. Everything starts out as an item, then it becomes a label, then it becomes a brand. And if you’re lucky enough, it will become a lifestyle.

When did you realize that you could start a clothing line that could potentially be its own brand?
We are faced with opportunities every day. You have to have your antennae up and be ready for them. I grew up around Russell Simmons, Salt-N-Pepa, A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, and Run-DMC. I would go on tour as their roadie and I would be wearing a product that I had bought and had tailored, and the kids wanted to buy the clothes off my back. I said [to myself,] “I could sew a straight line, I could make this.” In 1992, I stood out on the corner of Jamaica Avenue in New York and sold about $800 worth of hats that cost me about $70 to make. So I created this idea of FUBU and made 10 shirts. I sat on video sets and got the product in 15 videos. I started realizing that this was hip-hop. It was something you did, something you lived.

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