All it takes is one item to help propel a brand forward. John Dean knows that feeling well.
The founder and chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based streetwear brand Renowned L.A. started his company when he was still in Ohio in high school, selling a $10 shirt with a somewhat crudely drawn “Renowned” on it. It wasn’t until a T-shirt he sent to Chris Brown’s stylist ended up being worn by Brown on the cover of Nylon in 2013 that the brand gained notoriety.
“I didn’t know how the game worked where brands send boxes and boxes of clothes to celebrities,” Dean said. “I sent one T-shirt. I didn’t know any better, but he wore it on the cover of Nylon. It really caused a spark. We went from not knowing what wholesale was to being in 20 stores.”
He ultimately decided to stop studying business marketing his junior year of college, opting instead to drive four days to Los Angeles to focus on building his business. Brown continued to wear Renowned and, in 2015, the two teamed for the rapper’s “Between the Sheets” tour, for which Dean designed all the merchandise, in addition to Brown’s onstage pieces.
Reality settled in and, while buyers were all over Renowned for that one hot item, they weren’t buying multiple pieces and releases afterward were never as hot as that initial shirt seen on Brown.
“I was trying to find where I fit in this industry,” Dean admitted.
He began focusing on building out a range of looks with his first full collection released in 2017. Last year he said he hit a glass ceiling when it came to how far he could take the business on his own. So Dean brought on an outside investor based in New York with expertise in production, who now owns half the company. He declined to identify the investor.
There’s also a collaboration on the table with Playboy likely due out at the end of this year that includes T-shirts, hoodies, a bomber and accessories. The collection, named “Provoked,” is aimed at spurring thought or action.
Dean thinks the overall messaging of his pieces will give him the competitive advantage in a marketplace now being flooded with emerging streetwear brands and incumbents looking to maintain their market share.
“We’re definitely really hardcore into storytelling,” Dean said. “Our newest collection is called ‘Shadows’ and it’s about this duality. Maybe you know you’re talented. You know you have the skill, but sometimes someone else gets the job or someone else is more famous. Something happens that prevents you from doing whatever you need to do. So we wanted to showcase that with our season two collection, with a light and dark side.”
The lineup includes wolves and Grim Reaper imagery, contrasted with rhinestones and pops of color.
Another point of differentiation Renowned has settled into are its price points. They’re lower than some of the high-end fashion streetwear brands but more than whose distribution includes big box retailers. Renowned T-shirts range from $50 to $75, pants and hoodies $80 to $120 and a bomber is $300.
“I always want it to be attainable for the kid like me who couldn’t afford it growing up,” Dean said. “I always looked at Bape like, man, ‘I would love a Bape hoodie. But I don’t have $450. I’m an eighth grader.’ Some kids do these days, but I didn’t have that privilege.”
The customer base remains predominantly male, but there’s still a healthy female contingent buying Renowned. More campaigns will begin pulling women into the imagery.
With Renowned now on a course forward after spending more recent years refining its perspective, Dean is ready to look ahead.
“I think sometimes when streetwear brands grow they kind of lose track of their brand’s roots,” he said. “They lose track of where they came from and I want to always keep that in my heart where I came from, why I started the brand and why I want to tell stories.”