Daymond John is the epitome of what it means to be a mogul. As CEO of the multi-million dollar urban apparel brand FUBU (“For US, By Us”), a business marketing and branding consultant, motivational speaker, and most recently to his credit, a judge on the ABC hit series Shark Tank, John certainly holds a wealth of valuable insight for the aspiring entrepreneur and independent inventor. We had a chance to sit down with Daymond to learn more about the humble beginnings of the business venture that changed his life; what he looks for in a winning product idea; and what’s next for him, including his recent partnership with online inventor community, Edison Nation, to provide opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs and independent inventors.
ID: Take us back to the early days. Growing up, would you say you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
DJ: I definitely had an entrepreneurial spirit. At about the age of six, I would find pencils at school, which I’d carve and sell to other students. When I was ten years old, I would rake leaves for neighbors in the fall and shovel for them in the winter. I would offer a deal when I shoveled snow, that if they would use me in the fall to rake leaves, I would do the first job for free. This was to lock them in as a client. Then I’d leverage other kids in the neighborhood and hire them to do that job, working for me. I pretty much started doing odd jobs at age ten and since then I’ve always been hustling, doing a regular job along with some kind of side business that excited me.
ID: At that time, what were your future career aspirations?
DJ: I always knew I wanted to be a millionaire. When I was
about 25 or 26, I was extremely broke and I had tried everything and also failed at everything. I realized then, that the whole reality of just saying that you want to be a millionaire wasn’t good enough, and that the search for just “money” would most likely never bring you money. So that’s when I started doing something I loved, which was being part of a music generation and making fashion apparel. The other love that I had was to make the apparel for the people that created the music, and that’s when success started to find me.
ID: Tell us a little more about that. How did the venture into making fashion apparel begin?
DJ: Growing up we weren’t necessarily poor, but we were lower middle-class. My mother knew how to sew and make her own patterns. She has a lot of fashion direction. So when my pants would need to be hemmed or were ripped, she would sew them and I would watch her make the repairs. Sometimes I would help her, and eventually, I started to alter my clothes by myself. I was really into the hip-hop culture and saw these tie top hats in music videos. I liked them and decided I wanted to buy one. I looked all over New York (John is from Queens) and when I finally found one in Manhattan, the hat was $20. I said to myself, “This is a stupid hat for $20.” So, I decided to buy $20 worth of fabric instead, and from that I made thirty hats; I initially made them for myself. Also at that time, fashion companies had been making comments like “We don’t want African-Americans to wear our clothes” or “We don’t want hip-hop artists…” A popular footwear company made a comment to the effect of “We don’t sell our boots to drug dealers.” I wasn’t a drug dealer, but that brand had been embraced by the hip-hop community. I was frustrated by this commentary, so I went home and created a logo that said “For Us By Us,” because I wanted to create a community that supported itself.
By Andrea Simon
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