In 1992, Daymond John started selling homemade hats and shirts on the street. Within a few years, he had turned FUBU into a popular clothing line. For John, it all came down to supply and demand. (And being friends with a few rappers didn't hurt, either.)
I started FUBU selling hats and screenprinted T-shirts, but the ones that really got us noticed were our embroidered shirts. I had 10 of them. Not 10 styles of shirts. Just 10 shirts. For the first few years, I put those 10 shirts on rappers to wear in their videos. I'd put one on LL Cool J, take it back, and put it on Method Man and take it back. Because of those videos, people saw the product everywhere, but they couldn't get it. It built up huge demand.
At the time, I really wanted to be in Macy's. That was my Holy Grail. But the big department stores we approached said, "We don't know. We think those clothes are going to attract the wrong type of people into our stores who will steal clothes or get in shootouts."
So, instead, we focused on the mom-and-pop shops--the small chain stores in the middle of the hood. These were the type of places where you go in and the owner says, "This is a great brand! These guys are on fire! You need to wear this!" Those were people we could build an intimate relationship with.
Within a few years, the department stores came around. They found out those mom-and-pop stores were making a lot of money from our products. The first department store we landed was Macy's. The best part was, they supported us. We didn't have to walk around hat in hand. This was something they wanted to do. It's always better to do business with people who respect you. When you go around begging for favors, it doesn't get you far.
Day job while launching FUBU: Waiter at Red Lobster
Start-up capital: $100,000 from a home mortgage
FUBU's peak annual revenue: $350 million