Maybe you havent seen it
coming. Maybe it snuck up on you. But out of nowhere, the run-of-the-mill
Big and Tall community let go of their bland prehistoric colors
schemes, oversized t-shirts and sweat suits, and emerged as fashion
trendsetters. You could turn to any sports channel and watch as stars
like Lebron James, enter the arena at 6 7, 275 plus pounds, dipped
in the freshest of fabrics, and clearly proud of his fashion sense.
Little over five years ago, NBA players would walk into the arena looking
like they just stepped out of a fried chicken establishment headed to
a rap video shoot.
A huge part of this change
was built on destined circumstances. Mike Black Yussuff, born in
London, raised in the Bronx, is the conceptual mind behind establishing
Blac Label Premium. Out of college, Mike worked as a Financial Reporting
Analyst at Saks Fifth Avenue and then Liz Clairborne before circumstances
led him to take a severance package. In 2002, he became General Manager
at Total Sports, Inc. a retail chain based in Philadelphia, owned by
his close friend and colleague, Mike Harris. Today, the Blac Label Premium
brand has transformed from making 6 million annually to 50 million in
Mike Black Yussuff sat
down with www.AllHipHop.com to tell a story of perseverance, self
belief and being mindful of every moment.
becoming an entrepreneur is the popular move compared to the best move
for a persons skill set. What do you feel is the one quality the
separates the contenders from the pretenders?
Mike Black Yussuff: I
feel that an important quality to have as an entrepreneur is being able
to remove yourself from the situation, to look at that particular situation
from a different angle. For example, people that have a favorite recording
artist. And that artist most likely has something going on in their
life. Because you love that artist, you overlook the facts of whats
going on in their life. For me, Ill step out of that love and say,
wait, maybe Im being biased because I love this artist, I need
to remove myself from that love and see whats in front of me.
With clothing, I particularly like holes in my jeans. But when I look
around the room, I see three people with holes in their jeans. So maybe
I shouldnt make jeans with holes in it, even though thats what
AllHipHop.com: I prefer
to wear my jeans out (wear and tear creates natural holes) on my own.
Mike Black Yussuff: Right,
maybe you want to wear your jeans out naturally. So thats where other
designers often get caught up in whats particular to them and their
style. That doesnt always translate into the market.
AllHipHop.com: Blac Label
Premium opened up and expanded a market that once steered clear of the
Big and Tall being fashionably current. So how did it all come
Mike Black Yussuff: When
I saw the decline in the licensed good market, I wanted something that
fit more like my personal style at the time. Im 6 4, 225 pounds
and all our friends were the same size or bigger than Mike Harris and
me. So if we couldnt find clothes, our friends definitely couldnt
Everything happens for a reason.
I had a surgery for a medical issue. I lost weight due to that. So I
started wearing all the premium brands that I couldnt fit before.
This one particular time, we were at the All-Star Game in Houston, going
from one venue to another. We piled into a limo and met this Italian
guy from NYC who was sitting there with his fiancée. His fiancée looked
at me and said, I really like how you dress, I like your style.
After she said that, my crew turned their attention to my style that
night and each took turns on what they did and didnt like about what
I was wearing. That information gave me an epiphany. And that epiphany
led to the creation of Blac Label Premium.
Im not an artist, so I dont
draw. So I put together a Power Point presentation, brought it to HeadGear
Inc. which was dealing on Negro League Baseball and Black College at
the time. They were looking for something new to work on. So we linked
up and from there I gave out clothing to my friends that either played
Basketball or Football. I gave clothing to Al Harrington and Vernon
Davis. I also gave clothing to the promoters that I knew in Washington
DC and Philly, like Mike Walkin and Taz in DC, Smooth Troy in Philly.
Then I just worked the street angle since we didnt have any marketing
dollars. It took time but it caught on. We were that transition brand
because slimming down wasnt the look at the time. Our sizes went
up to 6X. For example, lets say that a guy my size walks into the
store looking for a 4X. The 4X wasnt available but he really loved
the shirt so he buys a 3X. He takes it home, puts it on and his girlfriend
asks him what size the shirt is because she likes how it fits him. Now,
hes a 3X. He comes back to the store as a 3X, but loves a shirt that
is 2X. Once again his girl likes the way it fits him. Now, hes a
2X. We were a brand that bridged the gap. If you wanted to slim down,
we had it for you; if you wanted to dress oversized, we had it for you.
It is a logistical nightmare keeping that type of inventory and that
type of size scale. But no one else was doing it or not doing it as
well. Usually when brands go above a 3X, they change the offering, style
and color-wise, as if big guys dont want to be fresh.
AllHipHop.com: Were in
a trending society. One person hits off, everybody wants a piece of
it. Lets talk about the word Premium. It adds a flare to your
brand name; a flare that others may try to lift for their brand. What
does the word Premium means to your brand?
Mike Black Yussuff: Mike
Harris and I, when we were working with Mitchell and Ness, we had access
to their manufacturers. What was a good part about working with Mitchell
and Ness was that they liked to make clothes exactly how they were made
originally. So if they were going to make a Philadelphia Eagles 1975
Wool Jacket, they wanted to use the same wool from that time. The clothing
was dope, but we had to charge $500 for the jackets because the NFL
had to get their money. So Mike and I thought, if we could take these
dope material jackets, hoodies, and make them plain, we could offer
it for half the price and sell just as many. So thats where the Blac
Label Premium title came about. We sell premium product. We felt like
our brand name didnt rub people one way or the other. Blac Label
Premium is versatile, easily expandable.
AllHipHop.com: Being a designer,
seeing the future is very important. Take us a few quarters from now
and let us know what you feel is next for 2010.
Mike Black Yussuff: 2010
will be a time where people will clean their fashion palate. Right now,
there is shift where people arent looking at one particular style.
I was just talking about this this is the first time in my life when
fashion is without a must-have item. Every generation had their must-have
item, mine had the Starter jackets. Tonight, we have 300 people at this
event, and everybody has their own look. Ive been looking around
and couldnt find two people with the same look. People want something
to set them apart. So what we are looking at are different treatments
we could do with basic items. T-Shirts have been a major part of our
business. Right now, people are pretty much doing a plain T with
something over it. This year it was cardigans. Next year, I believe
it will be dope lightweight jackets. People will wear lightweight jackets
almost like shirts. Instead of spending $100 on a shirt, theyll spend
it on a jacket and wear it with a white T under it or a black
V-neck up under it. People will change from jacket to jacket on a daily
AllHipHop.com: You came
into your business in an unorthodox way, compared to those that dreamt
every night about having a successful company in fashion. What type
of advice would you give to those that would like to be in your position?
Mike Black Yussuff predicts fashion trends for 2010
Mike Black Yussuff: This
is a balancing game. You cant lean too far one way or the other.
You just have to be sure. When you know that something will work, you
must be sure of it. When you receive criticisms, you must investigate
the criticisms. Theres a disconnect in fashion between designers,
retailers and customers. So even though I may think that a customer
wants something, I have to get the store to buy it, to get the product
to the customer. Think of ways to get your point across.