Whether it’s another rapper with a clothing line or Russell Simmons starting a new project, the streetwear industry is consistently busting with news. Next week, Rap Throwbacks and Def Jam University clothing lines will launch at the MAGIC International trade show in Las Vegas while Eve plans to introduce her first Fetish campaign.
This story first appeared in the August 21, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
They already have the men — now, Southpole plans to reel in the girls. The company, founded in 1991 primarily as an outerwear resource, used this back-to-school season to fully enter the junior sportswear market with a line of logo T-shirts, denim, terry sets and jackets.
Already established in the young men’s arena, the company now plans to do the same in the junior market. The new Southpole line wholesales for about $9 to $28, a moderate price point in the increasingly competitive streetwear sector. The first collection, which is at such retailers as Dr. Jay’s and J.C. Penney, consists of more basic pieces, but the spring 2004 line will be sexier and more trendy.
“We are not trying to do things that haven’t been done,” said James Ling, marketing director at Southpole. “We want to be that American look with urban styling at an accessible price point.”
Known today as a sportswear brand rather than an outerwear company, Ling said Southpole’s junior line has the potential to outweigh the success of the men’s line. Now a $200 million brand, he said the company foresees sales of $15 million to $20 million for the junior line in the first year.
“It took us a while to do this line because we really wanted to make sure we got it right. Women are much more finicky than men, so the quality, fit and styling had to be right the first time,” Ling said. “At first we were taking some of our hits in men’s and making them smaller for a junior fit. That wasn’t the way to go. We learned that we really have to treat women’s in a completely different way than men’s, with completely different styling. We are still on a learning curve, but I’m confident that the line is right and it can only get better.”
To help the line appeal to a teen audience, Ling chose hip-hop/R&B group 3LW to appear in the ads, which are running in trade publications as well as Vibe, YM, Teen Vogue and The Source. There is also a Times Square billboard in the works, along with outdoor advertising in Las Vegas beginning around the time of the MAGIC shows next week.
“Out of all the groups out there, 3LW seemed to be only one that truly appeals to teens, not older girls,” Ling said. “They are fashion-forward and they do a lot of mall tours, which is great for our business. I also used to see them wearing the guys’ stuff, so it was only natural for us to feature them in our campaign.”
Ling said the company has just begun looking at licenses, hoping to add accessories to the mix.
Throwback jerseys are not just for athletes.
That’s what husband and wife Rodney and Knia Bonds are set to prove with their new streetwear line, Rap Throwbacks. The first line, set for spring retailing, features jerseys representing old-school rappers. The colors are chosen from each rapper’s famous album cover, as with MC Lyte’s red and white jersey. The artist’s name appears on the back, while the front showcases the year the rapper came onto the music scene.
“Hip-hop clothing is so huge right now and it really all began with these artists who came out in the Eighties,” said Knia Bonds, who has also hooked up with another husband-and-wife team, Michelle and Ray Monroe, who are now partners in the company “They were the trendsetters and if it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be anything today.”
The company, which is financed by a large junior brand that has chosen to remain a silent backer, will launch the line in the streetwear section at the MAGIC trade show in Las Vegas next week. While the first line consists entirely of jerseys for women and men, Knia said she will eventually add other elements to make Rap Throwbacks a full collection of streetwear.
For now, the jerseys are broken down into classifications of rap music. There’s the True School segment, featuring the rappers who were first to launch, such as Doug E. Fresh and Too Short. The Classics offer jerseys from rappers like Kurtis Blow and Big Daddy Kane. The Commemorative jerseys honor rappers who have died, such as Big Pun, Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. Knia said they also will offer a line of T-shirts called Cut Masters to honor the famous DJs of the Eighties, like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
Wholesaling for $66 to $78, the company predicts it will reach about $2 million in sales by the end of its first year at retail. Knia said the firm will give a percentage of each sale to each rapper, hoping they will continue to be involved with the brand. Rap Throwbacks also will be present at old-school rap concerts, which are beginning to form throughout the U.S.
“The more each artist is involved, the better it is for them and for the brand,” she said. “Also, we encourage them to wear their jersey and do positive things for their community. This gives them an opportunity to help and to get their jersey out there.”
As for how the couple became involved in the hip-hop scene, Rodney is the son of an “old-school” rapper himself. His father is Daddy O of Stetsasonic, a rap group that gained popularity in the late Eighties.
“I really wanted to find a way to pay homage to rap icons,” he said. “With hip-hop clothing being so big and my connections in the rap community through my father, I just thought this was a great idea.”
The rappers agree.
“We are just as hot as the NBA players, so why can’t we have our own jerseys?” said Dana Dane, a rapper who made his debut in 1987 and whose hits included “Cinderfella Dana Dane,” his take on the Cinderella fairy tale. “I think this is the perfect way to represent hip-hop. I have my name on a jersey. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Rapper-turned-screenplay writer Sweet Tee is also pleased to see that RTB has paid homage to her rap career. “Hip-hop has played a huge role in fashion throughout the years,” she said. “It’s going to be a great feeling when I see people wearing my jersey.”
Soon everyone will know exactly how strong Eve’s Fetish is.
The orders have been placed and Eve’s clothing line, Fetish, is set to hit stores next week for the back-to-school rush. To make sure teens know exactly where to find the clothes, the company will launch an extensive ad campaign featuring the rapper herself.
“Eve will be the face of the brand, so it’s important that she is featured in the ads for at least the first 12 months,” said Troy Carter, Eve’s manager and vice president of Fetish Clothing LLC, which is licensed to the Los Angeles-based Innovo Group. “We will eventually add other celebrities and models into the ads.”
Photographed by Warwick Saint with art direction by Olivier van Doorne, Eve will be featured in three ads — one spread and two single-pages — which are planned to hit publications such as Vibe, Honey, Gotham and LA Confidential beginning next month. Also in the works are billboards on 125th Street, Times Square and on buses in Manhattan, and on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Each ad shows Eve, styled by Alexander Allen for Transformers Inc., in a black-and-white photo with Forties-style hair and makeup. But contrasting against the Hollywood-style glamour is the barbed wire that surrounds her, adding a gritty street vibe. The Fetish logo is prominent in bright pink.
“Eve has worked with Warwick before and we all love the way he made her look,” Carter said. “We wanted her to look soft and sexy and since it’s the first season we wanted the logo to stand out.”
As reported, first-year sales projections for Fetish are set at $50 million.
Def Jam University
The newest tunes from 50 Cent and Lil’ Kim are playing as loud as they can go, drinks are flowing and people are dancing everywhere.Such is the scene at any given hip-hop nightclub on a normal Saturday night, as fans of the music party late into the night. Brands like Rocawear, Enyce and Ecko can easily be identified on the crowd, as women and men wear their favorite logos on T-shirts, jeans and accessories.
On one particular night at Dallas nightspot Roc-A-Fella, in walks Russell Simmons, the mastermind behind Def Jam Records and Phat Farm clothing, with a surprise guest: Paul Robb, president of Kellwood men’s wear.
“I went home, took a nap and was at the club with Russell by 1 a.m.,” Robb said. “It’s something I never thought I would do, but at least my kids think I’m cool.”
Simmons felt that if Kellwood were getting into business with him, executives there had to learn the lifestyle behind the clothing. This night at the club was the perfect way for Robb to capture a glimpse.
Executives at Kellwood Co. have learned quite a bit over the last year since they began talks to start up a venture with Simmons. The company already knows the moderate apparel business well, with big brands like Sag Harbor and David Meister. But this deal with Simmons is a new ballgame for the $2.2 billion company.
Earlier this month, Kellwood entered into an agreement with Simmons and his brother, Joey “Rev. Run” Simmons, to launch Run Athletics and moderate-priced streetwear line Def Jam University. Available for women and men, the DJU line will commemorate the 20th anniversary of Def Jam Records, the label started by Simmons in 1984 when he signed such artists as LL Cool J, Public Enemy and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
Now owned by Universal Records, Def Jam has grown to become the largest hip-hop label. According to Robb and Robert Skinner, corporate vice president of Kellwood, getting involved with the Simmons brothers is a giant step in a new direction for the firm.
“The streetwear business is a significant piece of the apparel industry,” Skinner said. “It’s a multibillion-dollar industry that isn’t going away. It has the ability to regenerate itself.”
With its sourcing and distribution skills, Kellwood is set to wholesale the lines for $12.50 to $35, bringing streetwear to a mass audience.
“Not everyone can afford an $80 pair of jeans,” Robb said. “This makes it affordable for anyone, but still cool and street.”
Skinner and Robb said the Simmons brothers are heavily involved in both lines, approving each design before it goes into production.
“The design team for Def Jam is a separate design team from Baby Phat and Phat Farm, but they are still people chosen by them,” Skinner said. “Their involvement, as well as Kimora [Lee Simmons’] involvement in the junior line, brings all the authenticity to the brand.”
The DJU brand will launch for spring retailing. The junior line includes denim jeans and skirts with subtle logos on the waistbands, logo Ts and baseball jackets. The men’s line follows the same trend with oversized button-down tops and Ts, as well as denim jeans and logo baseball jackets. Skinner said he plans for the DJU label to reach sales of $100 million in the next three years.
Simmons said, “Mid-tier is where everyone shops these days. Every store needs this quality at this price.”
Simmons said he isn’t worried about DJU or Run Athletics being competition for Baby Phat and Phat Farm, since they are set at higher price points.
“Def Jam is more edgy and street,” he said. “Phat Farm is more classic.”
Overall, Simmons said the partnership he has developed with Kellwood could lead to other large companies to take a closer look at streetwear.
“Kellwood gets five stars for taking a look at this business,” Simmons said. “This is a whole new phenomenon for hip-hop clothing. It’s a real breakthrough — history in the making.”