The story of FUBU co-founder Daymond John


Daymond John is the co-founder of the hip-hop lifestyle apparel company FUBU. The name means ‘For Us, By Us’ and has a number of meanings and interpretations.

The FUBU brand was an early pioneer the hip-hop fashion movement that was created by people within that culture, brands such as Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas, Kangol, and Timberland all were popular in the hip-hop community, however these brands were created by corporations that were not directly aimed at the hip-hop community. There were also a large number of brands that would not want to be associated with hip-hop or urban youths.

Within the hip-hop community people would customise their own clothes using their urban hustle along with the desire for luxury items. During the 1980s a pioneer who used this type of fashion innovation was known as Dapper Dan would customize luxury branded items from brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and others to create bespoke pieces of fashion. This was a necessary part of the hip-hop culture as people had to make the best of the resources that they had available and they were ignored and vilified by the mainstream society.

Fubu was founded in 1992 and became of the most significant street wear brands of that decade. Other successful hip-hop lifestyle fashion brands of that period were Ecko Unltd founded by Marc Ecko, Phat Farm founded by Russell and Kimora Lee Simmons (now Leissner), Karl Kani founded by Carl Williams, Sean John by Sean Diddy Combs, and Rocawear founded by Damon Dash, Kareem Biggs and Jay-Z.

The 1990s was a golden age of entrepreneurship for urban street wear from natives of the hip-hop culture. None of those labels exist with the same level of autonomy or clout today as they once did. There are a number of reasons for this that we will look at another time.

Today an interesting situation exists in the world of fashion. Luxury fashion brands have experienced a number of challenges over the past couple of decades. Allegations of racism, sweatshop labour in factories, elitism, toxic cultures, lack of inclusive for fuller figured women, and the list goes on…

The demand for products from the intended luxury demographic has declined in the past twenty years, due to shifting attitudes of culture, a more enlightened and educated consumer, global economic recessions, a lack of hope for a better future from an increasing number of young people, improved quality in very cheap and affordable clothing from outlets such as Primark, the rise of online retailers such as Farfetch, Net-a-Porter, ASOS, Amazon and a host of other reasons would provide serious challenges for larger luxury brands to continue to grow.

As a consequence luxury brands have looked to markets that they previously belittled and ignored to increase their revenues. Two significant markets is the emerging Chinese middle class and the urban youth street wear market. We’ll go into more detail about this subject at another time. For now it is enough to say that ostensibly the ‘ugly ducklings’ have grown into ‘beautiful swans’ for the moment. Due to the contradictory nature of the change of heart from the luxury brands this 180° shift could be known as a ‘Black Swan’ event.

“The central idea in the Black Swan is that: rare events cannot be estimated from empirical observation since they are rare.”
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Black Swan effects are necessarily increasing, as a result of complexity, interdependence between parts and globalization.”
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Daymond John saw an opportunity to create fashion items that was largely ignored by the mainstream fashion brands. His mother believed in him and re-mortgaged her house for $100,000 in order to get the company going. They made some adjustments to the house to create a makeshift factory to enhance their production.

Daymond and his other co-founders attended the MAGIC apparel trade show in Las Vegas and even though they could not afford a booth there they used their creativity to secure over $300,000 worth of orders. They did not have the capability to fulfil those trade show orders and put an advert out in the New York Times to seek an investor who would invest in the company for a large return.

Things would pick up there and sales for the brand would exceed $300 million a year in 1998, and arguably the peak of the brand would be reached in 1999 when the rapper LL Cool J would feature in a commercial for the clothing brand Gap Inc. Wearing a FUBU hat he interjected the phrase ‘For Us, By Us on the low.’ The low is a term that implies secrecy. They got away with it and it became a wonderfully profitable piece of marketing for FUBU.

The Gap LL Cool J (commercial, 1999)

Daymond John would also feature on the hit ABC show Shark Tank alongside Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary.

He speaks about his journey along with contributions from those who also participated on CNBC’s The Brave Ones.

Daymond John, CEO of FUBU and The Shark Group | The Brave Ones

Entrepreneur: Daymond John

Fashion brand: FUBU

Channel: CNBC International TV

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