Nicki Minaj, Future, DJ Khaled, and Takeoff have all been adorned with custom clothing from YeKim, a luxury brand from designer Martez Malone.
YeKim began as an exclusive custom brand for celebrity clients. In 2017, CEO Martez Malone created a line for retail customers and opened up a new store on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. Martez grew up in Chicago. He hustled and did what he had to do to survive, learning critical business and survival skills along the way. This path led to an arrest on charges of bank fraud. He served his time. Now, the father of four applies lessons learned from the streets of Chicago to his business in one of the most exclusive retail corridors in the world.
Black Enterprise contributor Brandon Andrews sat down with Malone to discuss YeKim and his tips for other entrepreneurs.
You went from the streets of Chicago to owning a clothing store in Hollywood. Share some of the story and how YeKim was born.
I grew up in Chicago. I learned some tough lessons. Eventually, I got my life on track and found my way into the music business. I would travel back and forth from Atlanta to Los Angeles. A friend of mine took me to the [Los Angeles] fashion district and I saw something I liked there. I realized that I could become a designer. I knew YeKim needed influencers to build the business. I researched celebrities who were a good fit for my brand. I created over 100 custom leather varsity jackets and sent them. Many of those celebrities loved the brand and posted photos on social media. My business grew from there.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who want to build brands with influencers?
First, entrepreneurs should consider having the right product. Next, they should build a good business structure and recruit staff. Entrepreneurs have to create an effective marketing strategy, and some kind of story that people love to hear about is key to doing that.
You’ve used crowdfunding to finance your business and build your brand with Kickfurther and Republic. Why were these options right for you?
I funded inventory using Kickfurther. It was a good option for me as I began growing my retail business. Equity crowdfunding, once I complete a campaign, can become a great opportunity for me. It’s not just for the money. It will make history by having celebrities become business partners with your average working person who invests. Each investor in my brand will become a business partner. Hopefully, they will promote the brand as much as I do. Our community doesn’t really know about crowdfunding so I want to be a voice to start teaching crowdfunding to today’s generation. Unfortunately, my first campaign was ended because of the break-in of my store. That hasn’t stopped me.
What’s next for YeKim?
I opened up my flagship store on one of the biggest shopping corners in the world—Fairfax and Melrose in Los Angeles. The new store has given me access to an entirely different world of celebrities and other clientele. This year, I’m looking to go international with my brand. I recently returned from Tokyo. I did a tradeshow over there and successfully pitched over 10 major distributors interested in purchasing my brand to put it in Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Africa.