Sunday, December 28, 2014 Tevet 6, 5775

Brand X for Excellence?

May 20, 2010 By:
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Panel with bite: Daymond John (left) joins Kevin O'Leary and Barbara Corcoran on "Shark Tank."
He brandishes the concept of branding like an Excalibur of excellence, unsheathing an unbelievable track record in business that has had competition kneeling, caught in a benighted comparison.

King Arthur of the artful advertiser? This is one business behemoth you want around any table: advising, admonishing, suggesting -- winning.

Daymond John's résumé resumes with a powerful announcement after a lull in which his hip-hop clothing line, c, realized its global gotcha of sales potential: It's been renamed FB Legacy, and the baggy pants trendsetter is about to bag even more sales.

But it's all about branding, says John with no trace of bragging.

He should know; the MBA-less entrepreneur has made more out of street smarts and a smack-in-the-face awakening of the urban male youth market that has had him dressed for success.

And now, the author of The Brand Within -- offering an inside look at how a Queens, N.Y., salesman with a regal touch made the royal inroads to the throne of power -- opens up the books on his life, explaining how taking the road to tikkun olam is an enriching sojourn on its own.

Tikkun olam?

Funny, he doesn't look Jewish.

Well, John is ... and isn't. Born Christian, he didn't so much turn another cheek as turn his attention to lessons learned from a Jewish man who was his mother's companion of 10 years.

"Thirty years later, he's still big in my life," reveals the entrepreneur with lessons to teach, having learned much from the man he refers to as his dad.

And what he has learned is that repairing the world is a business with an easy entry point. He makes it his point to be there at the beginning, bright and early.

It's all a matter of steps.

He explains that his stepfather came into his life when he was 12 -- and that he "didn't grow up around a lot of people who weren't African-American."

But growing pains were provided a balm as he buddied up to his mother's boyfriend, Steve.

In fact, he says: "We became best buddies."

Not that he was on such strange turf. "Coming from Hollis, Queens ... well, it has a large Jewish community."

And he bonded with his bud over shared civil rites: "Steve's brother was a big opponent of apartheid in South Africa, and he helped have the color barriers broken; he did more for that cause than -- or as much as any -- African-American I know."

And Steve, stitching together a statement of caring and commitment, "opened my eyes to a different world."

One that included an ark of triumph taken from the Talmud. Learning from and about Judaism, attests John, "helped me understand a lot of things about life" -- also giving him that holiday feeling. Even now, he says, "I take off Jewish holidays."

And for a man who preaches that the four tenets -- not just questions, tenets -- of success in gaining "the power of branding from birth to the boardroom" in his book, are the stages of "item, label, brand, lifestyle," he jokes that he had one label that he was particularly proud of: "Round the office they would call me the 'black Jew.' "

But most important, possibly -- and he incorporates these lessons in his life and career -- is the need for helping the world be a better place and for giving back, this coming from a man who has not so much been given opportunity as made his own.

From his dad and delving into Judaism, "I learned a sense of community and the importance of thinking the process out, long-term thinking -- and to be extremely open-minded."

It's all opened vistas some would think unreachable.

"I learned," he claims, "to be better at business."

Sartorial tzedakah? "The culture I sold to in the late '90s was one inspired by music. What I created was our generation's [version of] Levi's." It was a run at making hip-hop, "not something you wear but a lifestyle."

But don't call his designs on the business basic black; urban and urbane can be interchangeable insights, he says.

He had his own early on, marveling at how misguided some business leaders can be. He had heard a report that a major retailer, feted for its upscale footwear, had described its own means of branding -- with a smoking-hot insensitivity that still sears at his soul and scarred his memory.

John had heard that someone from the company had said, " 'We don't sell our boots to drug dealers.' "

It served as a real kick in the pants, jolting John to do his own brand: FUBU, "From Us, By Us."

And they bought.

"But I'm not guilty of the kind of racism" that got him into the business to begin with, he says of the urban miff perpetrated by that boot company. His products are not solely for African-American markets, having a shelf-life way beyond.

Beyond his time at the office, he has done swimmingly on TV -- as part of the panel of ABC's "Shark Tank," in which moguls and money-men judge pitched business prospects from beginners and decide to take a chance with them (with their own money invested) -- or not.

"It shows me in a different light," especially to those who think combining African-American and the American dream would bring on a judge "with a gold tooth, brandishing a gun and break-dancing."

Give him a break; not that the co-founder of the $6 billion business FUBU needs one. But what he does need is a chance to seal the break of a somewhat shattered world with not so much the milk of human kindness as the glue of giving back.

"We have a social responsibility," he avows of his own version of shoe business. "The footprints we leave behind should be advantageous for others."

"I wrote these books" -- The Brand Within is part of his "The Display of Power Series" -- "to give back."

"And most importantly," says the man many in the business brand a mensch, "to leave my legacy as an example for my children." 

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