From lobster to shark is not that much of a leap — they both live in water — and if Wiki is accurate about Daymond John’s being Pisces, his path from serving crustacean to corporate world jaws may have been in the stars.
The founder and CEO of FUBU, the clothing company reportedly worth $250 million, who’s become even more recognizable as star of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” spoke recently at the Minneapolis Urban League’s 87th annual gala. Before the speech he talked to media about the trouble of finding major department store acceptance for an urban brand inspired by hip-hop music.
“Prior to [J.C. Penney selling FUBU], department stores had said, We don’t want that customer in our store because they are either going to be shooting each other or stealing the clothes. We responded by continuously selling to the ’hood stores.” When sales in urban stores skyrocketed and those proprietors began expanding, other department stores decided they’d better “get some FUBU in here,” John said.
FUBU is an acronym for “For Us By Us,” but John noted that “FUBU was not created solely for African-Americans. FUBU was created for people [who] love this music, this genre’s hip-hop, and they love [what’s] energized and created by African-Americans.” John doesn’t want to be guilty “of the same racism” committed by those critical of what rappers and inner city kids wear.
If John hasn’t already graced “Best Dressed” lists, it’s just a matter of time. Although FUBU originally was influenced by hip-hop, John’s answer to my question about whether he’s ever worn sagging pants is no surprise. There is something deadly serious about John that does not radiate from those who wear pants in such a way as to purposely expose their underwear.
Q What’s the short answer to the question of how you went from a waiter at Red Lobster to FUBU?
A A lot of failures and then learning and understanding that I needed to do something that I loved and was fascinated with, regardless of if I made a dime — that is, would have [given] me some form of fulfillment. Persevering and just moving on and keep trying until it worked.
Q You experienced a lot a rejection while building your brand. Do you ever have a pang of recollection when you are rejecting people making pitches on “Shark Tank”?
A A recollection of being when I was at that point they were rejected? No.
Q So you don’t have any empathy for these people?
A I didn’t say I didn’t have empathy. I said I don’t have recollection of it, because it’s a different form of rejection. When I was rejected, many times the people were right. So it’s not going to be an empathy, you know? A lot of times I don’t have empathy for that person, but I may have empathy for the mom and dad and grandparents who sold their house [because] they believed in this person. Everybody wants to be part of a dream, but this person didn’t educate themselves enough, and now not only did they let themselves down but they hurt other people around them. Because they said: ‘I can do it. I don’t need to go to school. I can do this, I can do that.’ On the other side, I do have empathy for people who have tried and tried and tried and nobody else saw their vision and everybody else said, ‘Well, the numbers aren’t good enough.’ It really all depends on a case-by-case basis.
Q You started FUBU by sewing hats in your mother’s basement?
A Sewing hats in the home that my mother and I owned, collectively.
Q When was the last time you sat down and sewed something?
A About three years ago, I sat down to teach my daughter how to sew something. It was a new sewing machine and obviously I’d forgotten [how to use one], because when I got up, the machine was stuck to my jacket and the sock was stuck to my jacket. [Laughter] I dragged everything else out of the room. I said, ‘You know what? Maybe I wasn’t that great of a sewer when I was sewing.’
Q How many suits are in your closet?
A Um, these are good questions. I don’t know. I would think 70. Maybe.
Q Have you ever worn pants hanging down below your behind, showing off your underwear?
Q You don’t seem like the kind of businessman somebody would walk up and pitch while he was at a urinal?
A That happened to me last night, night before.
Interviews are edited. An extended version of this interview is at www.startribune.com/cj. C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.”