• UO Interviews: Daymond John on Founding FUBU

    Ahead of UO’s exclusive collection with the famed imprint FUBU, we spoke with Daymond John, the renowned entrepreneur who founded the brand in Hollis, Queens in the early ‘90s. 

    What was the goal when you first started FUBU? What got you into wanting to create clothing? 
    I always had a love for fashion and a love for hip hop. I started to hear rumors about how all these brands don’t really love rappers, younger kids, inner city kids. Knowing these brands now, that’s exactly what it was, a rumor, but at the time, I was spending every last dime I had on fashion. I felt like I was purchasing clothing from people who just didn’t have the appreciation for their customer. That’s when I decided that I would be proud of myself and make the type of clothes for the kinds of customers I want. 

    Can you walk us through some of the ups-and-downs of starting FUBU? What kinds of setbacks did you and your team overcome to get the brand off the ground?
    First, it was a matter of getting the right team. We started with the initial four guys that have stayed around, but there was a fifth and sixth guy that didn’t. They didn’t believe in our journey. Then, there was the fact that we had no contacts in the fashion industry. We had to learn all of this information, and we weren’t going to school for it, so we were just flying by the seat of our pants. We didn’t have funding, there was no kickstarter at the time. I started in ’89 and formalized FUBU in ’92, but that’s why I didn’t start getting any real traction until ’96. 

    How would you and the team work together? 
    I started the brand with myself and my friends. They saw what I was doing and wanted to be a part of it. We all agreed on who would do what. One person oversaw more of the design. One person oversaw customer service and shipping. One group looked over the business aspect. We never really butted heads. Even today, we’re like brothers. We have our differences here and there, but when it comes down to the job at hand, we know who does what. 

    How did FUBU develop into the brand we all know today? 
    Growing up in Hollis, Queens, I had access to a lot of different musicians like LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C., Salt-N-Pepa, and Russel Simmons. I was able to go on tour with them and have access to the music industry. I was able to place a couple of hats and shirts I was making on musical artists. That gave me a large amount of exposure. That created a vacuum on demand for the product. Once I established that demand, I went to trade shows and started to work with larger companies for manufacturing and distribution.

    Solange name checks FUBU on her latest album as a sign of empowerment. How has FUBU stood for empowerment over the years?
    FUBU is for a generation of culture that was sparked by hip hop music. FUBU empowers the “us,” no matter what the “us” is: a community a, culture. We always want that interpretation to be inclusive. 

    Can you tell us about the FUBU Collection for UO? How did that line come together? 
    That’s the original FUBU. It’s the vintage FUBU and probably the most recognizable logo. We thought of putting out just a couple hats and people started to say, “It’s back and we want more of it.” We always listen to our customers, so we decided to put out a limited edition collection. Right now, people can’t enough of ’90s vintage collections. We noticed that it was difficult to find any of the old product on the market. You can’t find it because people are hoarding it and raising the prices. We decided to put ou the traditional FUBU you love with a new twist on it. 

    What’s the key element to creating a successful clothing line in 2017? 
    The key element is to build a very strong, small community first, that will live and die by your products. It’s to understand what your customer is and what they want. You have to be up to speed graphically and fabric-wise. Then you have to find the place they’re buying. People are now distributing throw retailers, but they’re also distributing through their own channels. The best way to work through it is to empower retailers and let the retailers empower you. Keep promoting what the brand really is, but push people to those retail doors. 

    From your perspective, what does the future of fashion and style look like? 
    People have their first contact with a brand through their second screen, their iPhones. You need to give them all the information they need and tell them the story, so that when they go to the store they know what they want. It’s a full-time experience. If you’re a retailer you’re only going to be around if you create this lifestyle and this experience and make people feel like they’re going into Willy wink’s factory. In regard to fashion, it’s going to be way more technical. Is it going to measure your heart rate? Is it going to tell you when you need to eat? Is it going to make you cool when you’re hot? Hot when you’re cool? What is the fashion going to do for you? 

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