It’s nearing 100 degrees in July when James Harden, who was just named the NBA’s MVP, was playing basketball in the gymnasium of East Los Angeles College with some of the country’s top high school and college players. He was actually shooting footage for Art of Sport, the new direct-to-consumer body-care line of which he’s an ambassador and an equity partner. Founding partners Kobe Bryant, Brian Lee and Matthias Metternich recruited top athletes across a variety of sports to help spread the message that there’s an alternative to that Old Spice or Degree bodywash at the drugstore. In fact, it’s more efficacious, made with better ingredients, and costs just a bit more. Harden took a quick break from the game to chat about how he’s building his brand, what he’ll do post-NBA and his famous beard.
WWD: Why did you want to be part of Art of Sport?
James Harden: I’m branding my business and trying to get to the next level and when the opportunity was presented to me, I liked the detail and the background. It was a no-brainer, especially as an athlete in this part of my career. It’s a very genuine authentic company. There’s nothing else like that right now.
I don’t really know a lot of athletes that have tapped into this. And now we are in rare company with JuJu and Kobe. Obviously, Kobe is a legend and JuJu is at the top of his game right now. We have the right people to get the word out and get the product out, so I’m just excited to be a part of it.
WWD: How do you vet all your branding opportunities?
J.H.: These last few years, it’s just whatever I actually want to do. Earlier it was like, “Where do I sign?” Now, my time is more valuable and I realize that and I’m not going to waste it.
WWD: How long have you been in the NBA?
J.H.: This is my 10th year. It’s not toward the end yet, but it’s getting there. So my time is valuable and when different opportunities come my way, a lot of them I turn down even when the money is great because I’m not interested. This was a prime example of, “I would love to be a part of something like this.” It’s special and fits what I’m doing and where I want to go.
WWD: Have you thought about what you’ll do when you’re not playing in the league?
J.H.: I try to, but I don’t want to think that far ahead because I don’t ever want to retire. But it is gonna happen some time, so these opportunities, that’s why I have to get into them.
WWD: What kinds of body-care products did you use before Art of Sport?
J.H.: I used a lot of different products, not just one. Even what I had been using, it’s just out there for everyone. But a lot more people are starting to be mindful of what they put into their body and what they are using and who makes this body wash or whatever, and that’s part of the wave now. Another reason why this is a perfect time for this. Athletes, or whatever profession you are in, this is here for your body. You use it every single day. If you’re an athlete, you shower several times a day.
WWD: Why do you think people care more now?
J.H.: The main reason is social media. We’d probably be in the same boat we were in 10 years ago if there was no social media out there. Now people are always on Instagram trying to find out what this person is doing and eating and wearing. You hear someone talking about it or see someone wearing it. There’s a lot more platforms where people can get whatever they are trying to sell to you out there.
WWD: Do you see yourself as a role model with your basketball camps and other youth outreach?
J.H.: That’s key, especially now with basketball. I want a lot of people to watch me and try to be better than me, but off the court I want to teach people how to properly live. I’m not perfect and I make mistakes, but if I can help while I’m here it’s a start, off the court.
WWD: Who do you think will buy Art of Sport?
J.H.: Everyone. Fans, followers, teammates, friends, it’s not just one specific group of people who can use the product. It’s worldwide, it’s for everyone. It’s something you use every single day, a few times a day.
WWD: What is your favorite product?
J.H.: The body wash. A lot of products just smell good, but don’t really do what they are supposed to do. That’s the difference when you have a product that smells good and actually works. You feel different, your skin feels different, you have a different demeanor about yourself and that’s what it’s about. If people have confidence that they look good and smell good, ultimately it changes culture.
WWD: Men are more open to taking an interest in products these days.
J.H.: I’m one of those guys. I don’t care if you judge me, I’ll put feminine stuff on if it makes me comfortable and feel good. Who cares? I think that’s another thing social media brings — people can be open-minded and think about not only themselves, but other people as well, so that’s a great feeling.
WWD: You must get asked about your beard a lot, but how did you develop your look?
J.H.: It was just one of those things, we were teenagers growing facial hair and it just started growing so fast and it got crazy. As an 18-year-old you want to look older, so I was like, “Alright I’m growing it” and I just never cut it and it gave me that confidence. You didn’t really see a lot of guys with big beards like that so…it’s my look now and I can’t cut it. I’d be a totally different person. It’s a good and bad thing just because I want to be as normal as I can and I want to go to places, but I can’t hide this thing.