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FUBU Returning to U.S.

FUBU, an original player in hip-hop streetwear, is aiming for a comeback.

FUBU, an original player in hip-hop streetwear, is aiming for a comeback.

Starting in fall 2010, founder Daymond John will reintroduce the brand, which exited the U.S. market about five years ago amid increased competition and a decline in popularity. John is hoping the convergence of surf-skate and urban fashion trends will result in a renewal of the label for a larger audience.

FUBU will seek to appeal to a younger, more diverse crowd than the original line with what John described as a “Carhartt-meets-Abercrombie & Fitch style,” and average price points of $65. It will be targeted to specialty stores such as City Blue, Trends, Jimmy Jazz and S&D. The bulk of the first collection will be men’s wear with a smattering of women’s and some swimwear.

“Kids have a three-year memory span, so most don’t have a sense of the brand’s roots,” John said. “I think FUBU to the kids is kind of an American brand. In apparel, [brands] tend to have a life cycle of three to five years and then need to be reinvented or taken to the next level.”

FUBU, which stands for For Us, By Us, has maintained a strong presence in international markets over the last half-decade with about 150 stand-alone stores in Asia, Europe and South America.

John, who just appeared in the first season of ABC’s entrepreneurial reality series “The Shark Tank,” described himself as an entrepreneur.

“Everything I have is for sale or I will buy anything for the right price,” he said. “I love fashion, I love to have fun with it, but it is a business for me.”

John was an early proponent of using product placement and celebrities as marketing tools (rapper LL Cool J was FUBU’s first pitchman in the mid-Nineties), and he is now tapping into reality TV and social media to push his brand, placing merchandise on shows such as “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” He’s been using Facebook and Twitter for makeshift focus groups, testing brand response in his target demographic.

FUBU started in the basement of John’s home in Queens, N.Y., when he and three friends — Alexander Martin, Carl Brown and Keith Perrin, who are still executives at the label — began making caps and T-shirts before the label started selling in major retailers such as J.C. Penney and Macy’s. Samsung began to underwrite FUBU’s distribution in 1995, which has helped shield the brand from ups and downs.

“If it wasn’t for Samsung, I’d be dead,” John said.

By 1998, the company was said to be generating more than $350 million in total sales and was carried in more than 5,000 stores worldwide.

For all his success, he’s had some equally notable failures, including his ownership of Heatherette, the now-shuttered line designed by Richie Rich and Traver Rains.

“I lost my pants on that one,” John said. “It didn’t translate from the runway to retail wearability.…Still, I believe my failures have contributed to my successes.”

John puts the number of brands he owns at 10, including FUBU, Coogi and Drunknmunky. Business has been down 30 to 40 percent over the past year, and John had to cut his workforce and overhead by more than 10 percent, but he thinks the timing will be right for a comeback next year.

“Apparel is a luxury people will give up before they give up their home or car, so it’s tough,” he said. “I’ve been through lean times about three times now and it’s a double-edged sword. The competitors with weaker legs fall down, so you can grab market share.”