NEW YORK — Looking back on the last 10 years, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter said he believes that of his many accomplishments — 11 albums, several Grammy wins, former chief executive officer of Def Jam Recordings and co-owner of the New Jersey Nets and the 40/40 nightclubs — he’s proudest of what he’s achieved with Rocawear.
“For nine of the 10 years that we have been doing this, we’ve been hearing that this is a dying sector in the fashion business,” Carter said, thumbing through a rack of Rocawear clothing for his TV commercial shoot. “For us to still be here to celebrate 10 years in business — that alone is a huge accomplishment.”
His mission for Rocawear, as well as that of its parent company Iconix Brand Group Inc. (which acquired the brand for $204 million in cash in April 2007) is to build the label into a $1 billion business. And he sees that becoming a reality sooner rather than later — despite the ongoing recession.
“The birth of this brand came from the needs of this culture, so we just want to make it our business to keep up with the culture and the customer,” Carter said. “We change with them and continue to evolve with them. Our plan for the next 10 years is more growth, it’s as simple as that.”
Carter was in the penthouse apartment in Brooklyn’s Clock Tower Building at 1 Main Street last week to film the brand’s first TV commercial. The ad is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the clothing label Carter started with his then-friend Damon Dash in 1999. Now that Dash is out of the picture (Carter bought Dash’s 25 percent stake in the company for $30 million in September 2005), he’s even more hands-on at the firm.
To that end, Carter recruited his friend, famed filmmaker Spike Lee, to direct the commercial. After a four-day shoot, the ad will be edited down to a five minute short film to be shown next month on BET, followed by a series of 30-second spots on MTV, BET and other networks yet to be selected.
In addition to the TV ad, the Brooklyn native has a long list of plans to help mark the anniversary. For starters, the company has taken over the 35th floor of 1411 Broadway (Rocawear’s headquarters are on the 38th floor) for a month and turned it into a gallery for retailers to come, look at ad campaigns and styles from past years and order from the latest season’s mix of men’s, juniors, children’s apparel and accessories.
Also, the brand is planning a series of print ads that will begin running next month and will feature Rocawear faces of seasons past. The ads will be individual portraits shot by Mark Seliger showcasing faces including Carter himself, actress Joy Bryant, models Omahyra Mota, Ana Beatriz and Jessica White and rapper Memphis Bleek, among others.
The Rocawear team also plans a series of in-store events for consumers and sales associates — one contest will reward the sales associate who sells the most Rocawear product with a trip to London to see Carter in concert. There will also be a series of cross promotions happening when Carter’s 14th album, “The Blueprint 3,” hits stores on Sept. 11.
Despite ups and downs over the years for the firm, Jameel Spencer, who has been at Rocawear for five years as the chief marketing officer, said that under Carter’s leadership, the brand has never been stronger.
“We’ve evolved beyond our customer in a way so that they have something to aspire to,” Spencer said. “Jay has this incredible sense of discovery and he really can sense the trends before they happen — in music and in our business. It’s been an amazing thing to see him come in, build and coach what has become an incredible team.”
Spencer said the Rocawear team and Carter were sitting in a meeting about two years ago when he expressed his concern about what would happen to the brand if it didn’t stay ahead of the consumer. Talking about his own experience in the music business, Carter told the Rocawear team that the music industry began falling apart when it became blindsided by technology — and that might not have happened if the sector had stayed one step ahead. Carter is determined for that not to happen with his fashion business.
“The world has changed so dramatically and we know that can we no longer just slap on a logo and have it sell,” Spencer said. “We have to communicate the right message through marketing, but it really all starts with the right product. Jay has built a team so that we have smart people in the back office running the day-to-day, we have fearless sales people who can help our retailers to think outside the box, we have a team of the most cutting-edge designers who aren’t looking to play it safe. Jay gave us this charge to move ahead and we know that if we don’t evolve we just won’t be around.”