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NEW YORK — Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter is out to win.
The hip-hop mogul may have sold his Rocawear brand to Iconix Brand Group Inc. in April, but he remains more involved than ever as he and Iconix set out to build the clothing label into a $1 billion business. And, with the launch of the company’s multimedia ad campaign, “I Will Not Lose,” on Aug. 15, Carter hopes to inspire consumers while at the same time capturing the new mood in hip-hop fashion.
“I Will Not Lose embodies the spirit of Rocawear,” Carter explained of the slogan, which is also a lyric taken from “Change the Game,” a single from his first album. “It is about a culture and an attitude that showcases survival. I like to see this campaign as a sort of reintroduction of the brand, but it’s also about more than just models in the clothing.”
Admittedly the urban market has struggled of late as once high-flying brands in the sector have lost out. But Rocawear remains one of the survivors — evidenced by the fact that Iconix paid $204 million in cash for the brand, with contingent payments of an additional $35 million of Iconix stock based on performance over the next three to five years.
Executives agree the brand easily could reach the $1 billion mark by expanding internationally, getting into retail and growing its women’s business. Women’s wear sales already have increased by 45 percent in the past two years, according to Alain LaFontant, vice president of juniors sales for Rocawear. Now the company generates about $400 million in wholesale volume, including $100 million from the women’s business, which sells in about 1,200 speciality and department store doors nationwide.
Neil Cole, chief executive officer of Iconix, said he sees tremendous opportunities for Rocawear, including a men’s and women’s fragrance deal, which the company will announce soon for a holiday 2008 launch. “We purchased Rocawear about three months ago because we think it has a tremendous opportunity for growth,” Cole said. “There is a big opportunity for retail, expansion of product categories and international expansion. We are already seeing a nice business develop in Europe and looking at opportunities in the Far East.”
Some might say Rocawear has it made with Carter at the helm as co-founder and chief executive officer. Many consider the mogul a built-in marketing machine for the brand. He is the most successful rapper in the business, earned $83 million last year, has Beyonce Knowles on his arm and was ranked at number nine on Forbes magazine’s “Power List.” He also has quite the creative head. With the help of his marketing team, Carter developed the multimedia ad campaign that sets out to captivate not only the Rocawear consumer, but the entire hip-hop community.
Sitting in his massive office on the 38th floor of 1411 Broadway here, Carter explained his new marketing idea as one that is unique in the apparel industry. The campaign, he said, is not just about the clothes, but sets out to promote hip-hop culture and the lifestyle surrounding it via a series of short documentary-style testimonials that can be seen on iwillnotlose.org.
Via partnerships with Web sites YouTube.com, MySpace.com, BlackPlanet.com, AllHipHop.com and Sohh.com, a Rocawear ad will appear on those sites and lead Web browsers to iwillnotlose.org. Once on that site, consumers will be able to view the documentaries that show individuals (dressed in Rocawear, of course) who have overcome major obstacles in their lives.
One story, told by Amie Steele, the editor in chief of the Virginia Tech campus newspaper The Collegiate Times, tells her emotional story of having to balance her responsibilities as a journalist and her concerns for the safety of her friends during the devastating massacre at the school in April. Then there’s the singer Ciara, who talks about her climb to stardom, and Chris Brown, another singer, who speaks about overcoming his insecurities through high school. Each story, by both men and women, young and old, is meant to inspire.
Carter doesn’t have his own documentary in the campaign because, he joked, “I have other videos.” But the idea came from his own life experience trying to break into the music business 15 years ago.
“People already know my story,” he said. “I wanted this to be a chance where other people can tell their stories and help to inspire others. A lot of times people think they are going through tough times on their own. This is a way to show them that they are not alone in their challenges and struggles through life. At the end of the day, I hope this campaign inspires people.”
Shot by photographer Mark Seliger, stills from the campaign also will run in a series of fashion and lifestyle magazines such as Vibe, Complex, Teen Vogue, Giant, XXL, Essence, Seventeen and Cookie. In addition, the ads will appear on billboards in urban areas nationwide. Consumers are encouraged to submit videos telling their stories of survival with the I Will Not Lose theme on the iwillnotlose.org site. Once submitted, viewers will vote for their favorite stories and two of the top-voted individuals will be featured in the spring-summer Rocawear campaign. Carter declined to reveal the budget for the campaign.
“I thought hard and dug deep before I got into telling my story of my challenges and struggles that I faced on my way to success,” Ciara said of her participation in the campaign. “I really hope my story will be an inspiration to others.”
Ciara said she also was pleased with the selection of Rocawear pieces on the set of the shoot.
“The clothes are much more mature,” she said. “They did such a great job of revamping the women’s line. There are a lot of cool pieces.”
While Carter said the women’s collection hasn’t been completely revamped, he admitted the line has changed with the market. There are more high-end pieces, and while this customer still likes the Rocawear logo, Carter doesn’t think it has to be done in the traditional way.
“When we started, we had success with the big Rocawear logo plastered across the chest,” Carter said. “And sure, we could have continued doing that, since that was safe, but I knew that we had to try new things, take some chances and move in a new direction.”
Julia Davidson, merchandise manager for drjays.com, said that Rocawear remains one of the top-selling labels.
“Rocawear is one of our top five brands in our men’s, women’s and kids’ businesses,” Davidson said. “The brand has seen tremendous growth in line with our overall site growth, which is approximately 70 percent. The addition of licensees such as footwear, [which is] a collaboration with Pro Keds; sunglasses; belts; bags, as well as the Sleep Sexy intimates line has really expanded and matured the collection.”
Bobby Jones, director of Alloy Access, the urban and multicultural division of Alloy Media and Marketing, which creates marketing solutions for consumer brands such as Nike, Akademiks and Timberland, said the Rocawear brand has moved in a direction that connects with the culture and also continues to make a positive impact.
“A lot of hip-hop has been viewed as very commercial, but the underlying spirit of hip-hop is to transcend where you came from and make a positive impact on the world,” Jones said. “Whether it’s by capturing money, fame or respect, the driving desire of this culture is to make its mark. The new Rocawear campaign does a great job of expressing that.”
But, while Carter and LaFontant hope the new ads inspire consumers, they agreed that, in the end, product is king.
“There has been a shift in the marketplace and I think that some other brands are not giving the customer enough credit,” LaFontant said. “They are very politically and socially aware, and that’s why we chose to make this campaign about more than just the apparel. But our business is still about the product, so I think we have really evolved with the market and have a very trend-conscious customer, which is reflected in our clothing.”
Carter said he has learned a lot since he took the driver’s seat at Rocawear. In September 2005, he bought co-founder Damon Dash’s 25 percent stake in the company for $30 million. Carter said he used to be against the idea of having a fashion show or opening Rocawear stores, but since he has been solely running the company, his ideas have changed. While there are no immediate plans to open freestanding stores — despite Cole’s bullishness — Carter said he would consider it if the right spaces opened up, both nationally and internationally.
“I learned not to rule anything out, our pop-up shop that we had last September did really well,” he said. “I thought it was just going to be a marketing idea that lost money, when in the end, it brought in more money than we expected. So really, I’m open to anything and want to keep pushing the envelope.”