As Marketing Director of premiere athletic brands Stall & Dean and Rucker, Rikers is the man responsible for connecting with and dressing many of the industry's elite. The brands have been embraced by several major artists, including the Top Three on Forbes Hip-Hop list: Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Sean "Diddy" Combs. Riker has managed placement of the clothing in videos, photos and television appearances for entertainers like T.I., Cassidy, Ludacris, Chamillionaire, The Diplomats, J. Holiday and ballers like Shaquille O'Neal and Carmelo Anthony.
Stall & Dean has been in existence since 1898, and the Rucker brand launched eight years ago. With the recent popularity of boutique shopping and the decline in jersey sales in the past few years, Rikers has established an aggressive 'in your face' approach to marketing. With a background as a Hip-Hop newsletter editor and a record promoter, he has applied his street savvy and street-team marketing techniques to fashion. [Editors note: If you were at our AllHipHop Week BBQ in September, youd have seen Hurricane Chris rocking the crisp red Hiroshima jacket. Suffice to say, Rikers is on the job.]
Rikers took some time out of his crazy schedule to give us some insight on the history behind the legendary Rucker basketball tournament, his take on formal schooling, and some advice to those interested in a career in fashion.
AllHipHop.com: Is Rikers a nickname or is that your real last name ?
Rikers: Nickname. They've been calling me Rikers since I was 13-years-old. My man, rest his soul in peace, he was like, "As long as we call you Rikers you'll never be in jail."
AllHipHop.com: [Laughs] Well that's good; it kept you out so it looks like it worked.
Rikers: Yeah, it's like one of my teachers told me, "You ain't never gonna be nothing in life - instead of being the corrections officer, you're gonna be the inmate." and I was like, "Whoa, I gotta prove her wrong." Most people would have taken that and just fell with it, but I've always taken things like that and flipped them.
AllHipHop.com: How did you originally get into fashion? Was it something you planned, or was it something that kind of just came your way?
Rikers: It just came my way for the most part, I've been in clothing for years, back as far as '90. But more or less going into marketing, me and some friends of mine started a newspaper called Four Korners News or Four K News. At the time it was the largest Hip-Hop newspaper out. It was the blueprint for a lot of magazines that are out now, and a lot of the others use the format we used. I was the news editor, but I was also in charge of branding it.
Dealing with a lot of the artists, I had access to different clothing lines. The first real marketing job that I actually had in fashion was with Nick Cannon's clothing line PNB Nation, then we rolled over to Stall & Dean. I was dealing with them before, but now it was more on the marketing side, doing marketing for them and the Rucker brands with Chris Rucker, the grandson of Holcombe Rucker who started the tournament, and Dexter Gordon.
AllHipHop.com: Who are some of the artists that are currently wearing the Rucker and Stall & Dean brands? Who have you worked with in the past and who do you have plans on working with in the near future?
Rikers: Oh everybody, we've dressed everybody. We dressed Jay-Z on one of his tours, he wore our Harvard jacket. When he said, "Far from a Harvard student just had the balls to do it on the song "What More Can I Say," he threw our Harvard jacket on - smart move by him. Diddy wears it, he wore the jacket with the 'P' on it, that's my Penn jacket, and he wore the Yale varsity. We have the license to the Ivy League schools as well.
I've been dressing 50 Cent from day one. If you get his first DVDs, you'll see him wearing a lot of baseball and basketball jerseys, all that's Rucker and Stall & Dean. When 50 first came out, a lot of people didn't wanna mess with him and we were the only people to dress him so, to this day, we still have a great relationship with him.
If you have the King album by T.I., he's wearing my Brown University varsity. DJ Drama got the cover of Billboard magazine, the first DJ to get the cover; he's wearing my Dartmouth jacket. If you look at early Eminem, the first people that did Shady Limited, that was us. If you look at a lot of his early pictures, he's wearing a lot of PNB Nation, that was us - you'll see a lot of Stall & Dean and Shady Limited, we did that as well.
We did Diplomats first video, Juelz Santana is wearing my Patterson jacket because we saw them and said "Yo, these kids are gonna be big". You see a lot of Chamillionaire photos like if you get The Ave this month with Will.I.Am, you'll see him wearing a Stall & Dean cap. He did MTV countdown and did "Ridin' Dirty" and performed in my Harvard varsity.
You have to look for that next big talent, and one thing they can say about us is that we [spot] hit artists all the time. Not saying we're the best A&R's in the industry, but we're calling these artists. Like if you see Cassidy in a lot of his earlier photos in the magazines, he's wearing a lot of Rucker. We have a long sheet of people that we hit from Luda, if you look at his old photos, to Saigon, they're all wearing Stall & Dean and Rucker. We're hitting them before they go mainstream, and because we have great relationships with them, it just carries on and they stay with us.
AllHipHop.com: As the Marketing Director, what does your job entail and what do your daily duties and responsibilities consist of?
Rikers: With Rucker it's basically from video placements with artists and entertainers to interviews. I have to constantly contact them and I'm constantly receiving calls. We have a foundation where we do a lot of motivational speaking, gang counseling this is stuff I do in conjunction with The Rucker Foundation and Stall & Dean. We do a lot of inner-city speaking and at high schools we dress the boys and girls teams in Rucker jerseys. We have to contact the schools to make sure they're getting their product, and even though we're not responsible for the kids passing, we do want to have a responsibility into looking into the children's futures.
We have to go to the games, we have to talk to the coaches, meet the kids - we're meeting with prospective schools, we're constantly shopping for shoe deals, constantly looking for licensing opportunities, checking out what the consumer wants by finding out what they like, looking for the fits, making sure the stores are happy, making sure we're in videos and magazines. We talk to Spaulding, we have our own ball with them. We're the only Black-owned company to have an official [Rucker] ball with Spaulding, which is the official ball of the NBA. We're constantly looking for the next rising star in basketball, the next rising star in music, we're always looking for that next big artist. Everyday is a constant grind.
AllHipHop.com: With the recent change in tastes in clothing designs amongst today's artists, they're straying away from athletic wear and leaning towards polos and button-ups. What's your marketing strategy to keep the Hip-Hop community interested in your athletic brands ?
Rikers: Right, that's what happened to the jersey market a few years ago. When Jay-Z said, "I don't wear jerseys I'm 30 plus / Give me a crisp pair of jeans and button-up", a lot of people didn't want to wear a jersey after that. With Rucker, when a lot of companies were converting saying, "Let's do a button-up." We were like, "we're a 57-year-old basketball brand, what do we change?" We converted from using jerseys to doing scrimmage tees - it's basically the same jersey, but we made it a t-shirt for you. Then we used a mechanized cotton, we used an Egyptian cotton - a higher-end cotton than the other clothing lines. When the customer puts this on they can actually feel the quality in it.
When everything changed with the jersey market, we just had to stay on top of the change and we had to work within the company and figure out, "How do we stay alive throughout this whole metamorphosis?" I guess you heard Mitchell and Ness went under, and this is a company that's been around since 1910. It was because they didn't have the inner works within the company to stay alive, they didn't have the direction.
I don't wanna say it in a disrespectful way, but a lot of people are like monkey-see monkey-do. You're a jersey company and say, "Well tomorrow I'm gonna do button-ups and derbies", but you're an athletic brand I'm like, "What are you doing?" If you stay athletic, your fans will stay there. You may have to shorten your quantities, but your consumers will stay there. With Rucker, we had to really conform to it, and now were right back with a premiere jersey line again.
AllHipHop.com: How long have the Rucker brands been in existence and how did that situation come about ?
Rikers: Well the Rucker's been in existence since 1946, the Rucker Park and the NBA both share the same birth year of 1946. They both celebrated their 60th anniversary in 2006. The Rucker's the oldest running basketball tournament the world knows. Stall & Dean goes back as far as 1898, and made everything from baseball bats to gloves. They made trophies, people like Ty Cobb wore Stall & Dean. Next year is the 110th anniversary.
The Rucker clothing brand came in about eight years ago, that's when we started actually making Rucker clothing. People were making the Rucker tees and things like that, but we own the rights to the name Rucker, along with Chris and Dexter, so people were making them but didn't have the rights to the name. They're not allowed to use the name Rucker without our written permission. Everybody played at the Rucker from Julius Erving, Pee Wee Kirkland, to Earl "The Goat" Manigault, to World B. Free - it was the proving ground for the NBA to this day. I think everybody played at the Rucker except for Michael Jordan. He's like one of the only people that people say they can't recall playing at the Rucker.
AllHipHop.com: I was actually up there at Rucker Park a couple years ago and saw Baron Davis. He was out there doing his thing one night.
Rikers: Yeah, he was out there a few years ago. People come out and they gravitate to the park and the brand because it's Harlem, it's history and it's basketball. Right now basketball is about to go global. China's picking it up, the European leagues are so strong and if you speak to any of them, probably nine out of ten of them know of the Rucker. So we gotta keep the brand very strong in the eyes of these athletes, entertainers, rappers... everybody really respects and messes with the Rucker.
AllHipHop.com: As far as marketing is concerned, did you go to school for marketing or did most of your knowledge come from experience ?
Rikers: A lot of my knowledge came from experience. I talk to a lot of people that went to school for marketing and now they're not even in marketing. Growing up in the inner-city, most of the people I saw become successful were actually the drop-outs. The ones that went to school are burdened with college loans, they're burdened with indecisiveness, they're still telling me that they're paying books off. I grew up in the 80s. I grew up in the crack generation, so I'm looking at the everyday hustlers and I'm like, "Man this guy's making money, a minute ago this guy could barely read! He's able to make the weight on his drug, he's able to count his money properly. I looked at it like schooling never really made sense to me.
My approach is more or less guerilla marketing - it's unorthodox. If you took an orthodox approach to the marketing with the whole transformation of the market, you wouldn't have survived. Like a lot of the companies had guys with five-year degrees in marketing but these companies went under. It was so textbook but to survive in this world, you can't follow the book. If you're following the book or following the everyday way of life, you'll be a '9-5er'. You'll pay your bills off and you'll have 20 dollars to yourself on that Friday.
Using the unorthodox approach, I would ride the train, I would go to Fort Greene Projects, Soundview Projects, or I could go out to the Hamptons and I could always assimilate to my environment. I would always know what the different people are wearing, what they want, what they're looking for - and I knew I couldn't get that out of a classroom.
AllHipHop.com: What kind of advice would you give to someone interested in Fashion Marketing? What route should they take with or without formal schooling?
Rikers: I would definitely recommend that people take an internship and learn fabrics and patterns. Learn how to do CAD (Computer Aided Drafting), learn the ADOBE system. Basically, intern. To really be successful, you can look at other lines for inspiration, but keep your own identity. If you bite off of another designer, you're gonna be exposed because when it comes time to control your own line, you're not gonna be able to step up.
Get out to the MAGIC or Project shows out in Vegas in February and August, get a badge in advance and go there and look at the lines. This is how you can get an internship, because you might bump into someone who's looking for help and you'll get some good inspiration from being out there. The networking is great, you can network with somebody that can even help you start your own line. You have to really be a go-getter - it's basically a straight hustle right now. You're not gonna get in and fit in if you're standing on the curb, so you gotta be very aggressive to get what you want.
Go to www.myspace.com/rikers357 to find out what Rikers will be doing next with Stall & Dean and Rucker
**CONTEST**The first person to post the correct answers to ALL of these questions will win a Stall & Dean jacket and/or a piece from the Rucker line. You can win one or both, but you do have to have all questions answered technically correct. Only one winner for each list of questions (obviously). Once we have a winner, I will inbox your page to get your information. Have fun! Dove
Stall & Dean
1. What city did Stall & Dean mark as there home when they first went in business, and what was the year?2. Name three (3) Negro/ Latin league baseball teams that Stall & Dean produces clothing for? (Example Pitt Crawfords, NY Cubans, etc.)3. What celebrity wore Stall & Dean on the cover of Billboard Magazine in 2007?
1. What was the year the Rucker Park tourney was first established?2. Name five (5) Professional athletes that played at the Rucker. Current or past. 3. Name three (3) Rucker legends. Nicknames are ok.