Fubu Celebrates 30 Years With a Resurgence and Reclaiming of Its Contribution to American Fashion

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There is a short list of fashion companies that have achieved 30 years in business, and an even shorter list that can chronicle the impact on culture they’ve had in that span of time quite like Fubu can.

One of the originators of urbanwear and streetwear, the New York City-based company achieved more than $350 million in sales and operated as many as 200 freestanding global stores at one point in its story. It has managed numerous collections under its umbrella, like Fubu Platinum and tailoring, explored products like fragrances, was featured in museums and even had an entertainment arm.

This year, Fubu’s cofounders — Daymond John, Carlton Brown, J. Alexander Martin and Keith Perrin — are looking back on 30 years and charting their future through special commemorative products and a slew of collaborations, including one with Forever 21 that launched in March, children’s brand Haus of JR launching in the fourth quarter, the upcoming film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” among others.

“Thirty years is something you can’t really put into words,” Martin said. “Four African American guys coming from where we come from and doing this at such a high level, you can’t really put it into words.”

After a quiet period since operations began slowing as early as 2006 as the group focused on other pursuits, Fubu began its relaunch this year with new men’s and women’s apparel and accessories distributed by new partner Concept One. The company also opened licensees in Mexico City and Brazil, to expand its global presence, which already includes South Africa and parts of Europe and Asia.

Fubu teamed with Forever 21 in March to launch an expansive men’s, women’s and children’s collection at the retail chain in the U.S. and worldwide, comprised of classic apparel, like graphic T-shirts and track suits, and accessories like caps and bucket hats, plus denim, swimwear and chain belts.

The commemorative product launching in the fourth quarter this year will revive past styles like Fubu football jerseys but with new fabrics, as well as graphic T-shirts and hoodies, polo shirts, sweatpants and sweat shorts with signature Fubu, FB and Fubu Sport branding and typeface. The brand will also focus more on kids products this fall through its collaboration with Haus of JR.

Part of the new demand is the 1990s trend that has resurged of late, but though the brand had slowed its operations in the U.S. in the early to mid-2000s, it continued to operate in international markets like Japan, Mexico, South Africa, some countries in Europe and the Philippines, the cofounders said.

“Our brand always stood side by side with music,” Brown explained. “You look at artists and they’ll say they lost traction in the States but they get more love overseas. When it comes to fashion, it’s the same way. People may be off of it here but the overseas market embraced us.”

Fubu, Magic Show

Fubu cofounders at their second MAGIC Show in Las Vegas Fubu

So while this 30th anniversary isn’t exactly a comeback because some operations continued, the new focus on the U.S. is an effort to cement Fubu’s legacy as one of American fashion’s great success stories.

The foursome’s origin story has been told often. They first printed T-shirts in their native Hollis, Queens in New York City in the late 1980s before establishing the Fubu brand, which stands for “For Us, By Us,” in 1992.

“Our dream wasn’t necessarily to have a clothing line,” Brown said. “We wanted to do a variety store. We had Fubu but also wanted to sell trending things like T-shirts and water guns. When J. [Alexander Martin] got out of the military, he gave us the idea of making Fubu a brand on its own as cut-and-sew and jeans.”

John mortgaged his home to finance the brand and turned a portion of the home into a factory to produce the garments before the company moved production overseas. The founders sought funding in 1995 and received investment from Samsung C&T America.

Over the years, Fubu appeared in music videos, TV shows and commercials, most notably worn by rapper LL Cool J in a 1997 Gap advertisement, where he sported a cap from the brand and referenced the phrase “For Us, By Us” in his lyrics.

At the brand’s height in the late 1990s, it amassed annual sales of $350 million in more than 5,000 specialty stores in the U.S., and operated as many as 200 global freestanding stores in Germany, Italy, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. The company then expanded its offering to footwear and formalwear like tuxedos and suits.

“We followed our consumers demand and many of our consumers weren’t kids,” Brown said. “They were professionals and they couldn’t wear the same clothes as in high school.”

Perrin noted that the founders’ own personal styles played a role in Fubu expanding its offering, too. “Once we created our brand and wearing our clothes, that’s all we wanted to wear. Guys on Wall Street used to approach us and would say I can only wear Fubu on weekends, but if you make a suit I’ll support it. We had the number-one tuxedo for colleges and weddings.”

The company also introduced a women’s line under license by Jordache, which Brown said Fubu “launched in a big way with Macy’s.”

Designer-founder Daymond John and Jordache's Elliott Lavigne pose with a model in look from the Fubu women's debut sportswear collection for fall 1998.

Designer-founder Daymond John and Jordache’s Elliott Lavigne pose with a model in a look from Fubu women’s debut sportswear collection for fall 1998. WWD

“We get huge support from women,” he continued. “What I see online, it seems like ladies really embraced our brand in a way.”

At the turn of the century, Fubu introduced a “Platinum” line offering “novelty” product, according to Martin, featuring things like cartoon characters of real-life figures like the Harlem Globetrotters and the late Muhammad Ali, and fictional characters like Fat Albert and the Junkyard Gang. The company also produced a collection for the NBA before throwback jerseys became a trend, and launched fragrances with Inter Parfums Inc.

As far as the brand always being associated with music, Fubu established a multimedia arm in 2001 called FB Entertainment and operated a record label called FB Records that produced a compilation album called “The Good Life” on Universal Records and an album by 54th Platoon called “All or Nothin’.” Both albums charted on the Billboard 200.

But overexposure eventually damaged Fubu, and markdowns impacted the brand perception among consumers. As streetwear moved toward skate and international brands, Fubu pulled back from the U.S. market in 2006, pivoting to a new line called Crown Holder that operated for three years and topped $20 million in sales. Then, Fubu reemerged in 2010 to cater to “a younger, more diverse crowd than the original line,” as WWD reported in 2009.

Efforts to maintain momentum were still somewhat subdued, but Fubu again made a splash for its 25th anniversary in 2017, launching a capsule collection with Urban Outfitters, and collaborations with Puma, Ebbets Field, Chalk Line and Pyer Moss. In 2019, the brand relaunched at Century 21.

Between Fubu’s first U.S. departure in 2006 and this major milestone, the cofounders each explored further pursuits. John has been a regular on award-winning ABC reality business show “Shark Tank” since its debut in 2009; Perrin operates Fubu Radio, an Atlanta-based station that began in 2015 and is available 24/7 via app; in April, Martin launched on Amazon Prime, Apple, SamsungTV and Roku the For Us By Us Network, a U.S. video-on-demand streaming platform made with Verizon and Comcast, with shows like “Making of Saucy Santana” starring up-and-coming rapper Saucy Santana recently featured in Teen Vogue.

“Everything we’ve done is a natural maturation,” Martin said. “We started as children just trying to figure it out. We were entrepreneurs back then and started when it was super hard.”

Fubu co-founders

Fubu cofounders Carlton Brown, Keith Perrin, Daymond John and J. Alexander Martin. Fubu

Fubu is not often mentioned alongside companies like Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein, but its impact on American fashion and culture is more than relevant and necessary to consider. When you look at the heights streetwear has reached, taking over the top global luxury fashion houses through collaborations and art direction, and used as rebranding or marketing tools for other industries, like automotive companies turning to the late Virgil Abloh to put his design spin on Mercedes-Benz, and the same for Ronnie Fieg for BMW and Teddy Santis for Porsche, you can trace this back to Fubu and the pioneers of urbanwear.

“We believe that we have just as much credibility as any brand in the market,” Brown said. “We feel that we’ve done enough to earn our right in American history. We know that we are comparable and we have the history and longevity, but it’s taken time for some people to put that value into us as other brands. It’s nothing new to us, but that’s how it has always been. I think people need the documentary and the movie [though there was no word of this being in the works]. To see it and get some visuals would be impactful.”

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