Without a doubt,
Russell Simmons has set out to raise the bar in all of his endeavors. In many
cases, hes set the bar so high in the music, fashion and community outreach
that few can attain his level of success.
He took the Phat Farm
and Baby Phat brands to the top of the streetwear fashion game, and while his
companies grew, he realized that his core consumer was also growing up. He made
some career transitions, and although it looked as though hed moved on from
Phat Farm, he was actually making a new plan. These days, the mogul is enjoying
the fruits of his labor in an unconventional way by working more!
With the new Argyle
Culture and Atman lines on the come-up; the Baby Phat, Phat Farm and Simmons
Jewelry Company brands still evolving; and the new American Classics line on
the way, theres just no stopping his groove. We took some time out of Russell
Simmons busy day to get the scoop on his ever-fascinating fashion business.
Argyle Culture youve coined the term urban graduate. Can you explain what
that term means to you?
Russell Simmons: Well,
the urban graduate is a term because billions of dollars have been made in the
clothing business in urban clothing. We always had this idea that our
audience would grow up, but its very difficult to take the name Phat Farm and
put it in the mens department.
Even if a lot of the first consumers have
grown, 17 years later it still has a youthful [connotation], and Im not that
youthful. My spirit sometimes is, but its what I design that speaks to my gut,
it makes me comfortable and its in Macys in the mens department. Its the
first time Ive had a mens buyer come to my office, he came and bought, we had
tremendous sell through.
Theres a void, the
urban graduate is not being served. Those that grew up with Hip-Hop are not
necessarily growing into Ralph, they grow into their own brands in this case.
set a lot of trends in Hip-Hop attire over the years and your consumer has
grown up. How would you like Hip-Hop culture now to be inspired by Argyle
Russell Simmons: I just
think that we have to keep evolving all the time, if it fits then wear it, if
it doesnt A lot of people I think see it. Theres another brand I have,
American Classics, and Im going to announce shortly about its distribution. Its
a dramatic shift for a lot of people and for our brand in terms of the way its
distributed and what it turns into.
My fashion business has
been completely transitioned. I just had Atman and them opening a store. The
name Atman means higher self, Im wearing these jeans now with an ohm symbol on
the back and t-shirt has a Lakshmi on it, although you can barely tell. Its organic
cotton and kind of pricy but its inspired by the Deities, Lakshmi, the Images,
the Seven Chakras. So its kind of a fun denim company, but its a contemporary
jean line and the fabrics are very expensive.
The American Design
Group is my company, we have Atman which is the spiritual company, Argyle
Culture, the Simmons Jewelry company, and American Classics by Russell Simmons.
American Classics by Russell Simmons will be for a mainstream department store,
I can say that much. It will be huge distribution, and the first year
predictions are dramatic.
That idea is kind of
like dressing America – some of the designs we worked so hard to get is not
really available everywhere. We need to make sure that everybody can get to it,
and thats what American Classics is about. Our restructuring of our fashion
company has taken us not that long, but its been in the works for years and
now its really starting. Were opening the Atman store within the next month
and opening one in Canada as well.
AllHipHop.com: Are you
doing that with each brand?
Russell Simmons: No,
American Classics has its distribution. Argyle Culture is almost exclusively in
Macys now. Atman is a contemporary jean store, so itll sell to those who buy
a lot of the competitive contemporary brands.
AllHipHop.com: What type of brand loyalty are you hoping for with
Argyle and any of your other brands, and are you hoping that your older Phat
Farm crowd comes along with you for that journey?
Russell Simmons: Well,
with Phat Farm I still have the same economic interest in it for the next four
years, and I always will love that brand, so Im hoping that Baby Phat and Phat
Farm will just keep growing. Overall, internationally theres still growth and
its kind of incredible when you see the decline in urban business in general,
but Baby Phat is growing all over the world as is Phat Farm.
I hope that they can
figure out how to re-position the mens brand in America. I think its tough
for everybody if you look at any of the urban companies, theyre not doing what
they were. Thats the reality – I think its generational to some degree. [As
for] Argyle Culture, our people have outgrown Phat Farm already – people just
dont wear it anymore. Its an urban brand, but its a young urban brand.
Its funny, my number
one selling sweater this season is an argyle vest. A cardigan sweater vest with
argyle, thats not something I could ever sell with the name Phat Farm on it. I
thought it would be nice, but I didnt think it would sell just because of my
experience making something kind of like that before – all my vests also, the
golf sweaters, the argyle sweaters, the oxford shirts, the khaki pants, the
classic American ideas. They have a little twist. Those are things that I made
for my other brands but they didnt sell. Now they sell like crazy.
Were probably the
hottest brand in Macys. To be the hottest brand in Macys with this classic
American idea is a dream, because although I wore them, they brought more
aggressive younger ideas from Phat Farm. No matter how much I grew and some of
our audience grew, the company was difficult to grow and change. It had a
certain image and following, and sometimes new people join, but sometimes some
people leave – and those are the people that I believe are following us into
AllHipHop.com: Are you
finding that when people buy a vest theyre buying two or three to get the
different color palettes?
Russell Simmons: I know
one thing, the vest that we used in our first seasons ads sold out in days in
every color. I dont know if they bought more than one, but it sold out in
days. I couldnt believe it so they wanted that argyle vest. But this season
that cardigan is the epitome of the brand. When you take it that far to make a
cardigan, its not whats in style – its whats in style for our core
consumer. Thats a special thing.
AllHipHop.com: With the
Simmons Jewelry line, youre still working a lot of different angles. Last year
you had the Green campaign
Russell Simmons: That
green bracelet is still growing, we wrote a check the other day for another
$360,000 to the school from the bracelet. I believe thats nice, and weve
raised millions of dollars from the support of the De Beers and Oppenheimer
family, and they just now played another commercial about the Diamond
Empowerment Fund which will be run.
So, theres a lot of
work thats being done to set up this idea, but I wanna raise that whole $35
million for this school, and were at three or four million now but we need to
raise the rest. If I sold a million bracelets, that would do it. I dont see
why I cant sell a million, every place I look I see somebody wearing them.
During Fashion Week I saw
all these people wearing the green bracelet, I see all these people wearing the
bracelet and the money just came from the last few months of selling. The
bracelet just ht the store, and I think it takes time to translate from the
celebrities of Beverly Hills to the Zales and Fortunoffs and Kays and Gordons.
Theres a whole bunch
of other stuff [aside from the green bracelet] obviously which is not for
charity, but the green initiative is what I believe brings our company to the
forefront of that business where no one of color is. Were alone. Im the
keynote speaker at the JCK convention which is the jewelry convention in Las
Vegas. There wont be a person of color in the room but me – maybe the
ambassador for Botswana, which is the number one diamond producing country,
other than that nobodys Black.
I want to bring more
people into the industry and change the mindset of the industry to be even more
sensitized to the plight of the people where the diamonds come from. Thats why
I think Simmons Jewelry is successful, I believe, because of the good karma
associated with the original intention.
else do you want people to know about what youve got coming up?
Russell Simmons: Its
nice to talk about Argyle Culture because its in Macys and it really does
speak to the core consumer that weve worked on and needs the next level. I
dont mean level price wise, its the same price as Phat Farm which is still
pretty expensive I guess. The American Classic line is gonna be announced soon,
its totally different distribution but kind of the same energy, I believe the
urban graduate is a big void. Then like I said, Atman – were opening a store
downtown – and Simmons Jewelry.
I cant call it an
empire because theyre all small companies, but those are my fashion
aspirations. We have very talented and creative people, and I can bet on all of
nieces are doing really well with that whole Pastry line
Russell Simmons: Yeah
thats from Run Athletics. I didnt mention that how could I not say were
still in the sneaker business with Run Athletics and the girls are paying all
of the bills? The Arthur Ashe sneaker is doing pretty good, but Pastry is
paying all of the bills. Pastrys is on fire, Im very excited about that.
Theyre another new company.
[People] said, why
would I leave Phat Farm? To focus on what? That doesnt sound like a lot to
you? I still gotta worry about my Global Grind [website], I want you guys to
get more [news] feeds so I can do more [with] Global Grind [and] AllHipHop!