Gift of Garb
Daymond John is the first to admit that he owes it all to Mom. John, founder of the FUBU clothing company, says it was his mother, Margot, 51, who first taught him to sew when he was 24. Then, when sales of his homemade tie-top hats began to soar, it was Margot, an American Airlines hostess, who re-mortgaged her house in Queens, N. Y., for $100,000 and moved out, allowing her only son to convert it into a factory. In 1994, John expanded his cap business into the "urban gear" market, stitching his FUBU logo (For Us, By Us) into baggy jeans, aviator jackets, down bubble-coats and a variety of headgear, from flapped hunting caps to cowboy hats. Now his designs are sold by Macy 's, Casual Male and other mainstream stores across the U.S., and his one-man operation has grown to include three partners and 15 full-time office workers. Last year, FUBU cleared some $7 million in sales, and John moved his office to the Empire State Building. Last month he staged his biggest runway show for buyers and the press from New York's fashion center, Seventh Avenue.
First person: "I got into the apparel industry by selling clothes in the street. I would first make hats at home and then go in the street and sell them." One weekend, at a Queens shopping mall, John and a friend "sold about $800 worth of hats, and I was hooked."
Second person: "He lives and breathes what he's making," says Elena Romero, a young-menswear-market editor for fashion mag DNR. "That's why FUBU's popular with kids."
Odyssey: Raised in Queens, the only child of a single mother; after finishing high school, he waited tables at Red Lobster, drove a gypsy cab and got into fashion only after trying to buy a tie-top hat one day: "I found one and it was like $20. For a couple of pieces of cloth? And the sewing looked so easy. I said, 'For $20,1 could make 20 of these a day.' "
The grind: "I would get up at 8, go buy fabrics, make some hats until 2 p.m., call stores or go try and sell them until 4 or 5 o'clock, go to work the dinner shift, get home about 12 and make hats until around 5 in the morning."
Big break: Free international exposure when rap stars like L.L. Cool J—a boyhood pal from Queens—and other hip-hop performers began sporting his clothes and FUBU trademark in their music videos.
Where first big profits went: To pay off the mortgage on his mother's home.
First splurge: A champagne-colored 1996 Lexus GS.
Lifelong debt: "I owe my success to my mom, who instilled in me the fact that I could do anything I wanted to do."