My Lil Star: Oh Baby!

Let’s admit it. We love buying those cute little Sean John jackets, Baby Phat dresses and newborn-size Air Jordan shoes for our children, nieces, nephews and for other people’s kids for just about any baby shower we attend. While those looks are fashionable and oh so adorable for the little ones, it’s not always practical for the average parent to buy children’s designer clothing for every day wear. Of course you can still find quality clothing at good prices, but our Hip Hop generation does love its trendy gear.

Even if a parent can find good deals on designer clothing, necessities like diapers and bottles seem to keep going up in price. Enter brainchild Steve Marcano, who found a serious niche in the market back in 2004. He evaluated the situation and created My Lil Star, beginning his mission with a line of extremely affordable diapers. Since its inception, the company has been growing by leaps and bounds. Now in retail stores across the country, My Lil Star is branching out into apparel, and is endorsed by dozens of major celebrities. We recently spoke with Steve Marcano about his motivation behind creating the line and his plans for the future. Tell us a little bit about why you created this line to begin with.

Steve Marcano: Basically the clothing line is coming because of the success we started to achieve with the diaper line [of the same name]. It all started out with the baby products, I wanted to do a baby product company. It's never been full nine of a minority baby product company ever in America. There's never been a Black-owned baby company so I figure that was a pretty cool niche because we spend about $2.8 billion a year on diapers as minorities. A lot of people do [baby] clothes, no one's ever done a company.

What I looked at was the success of all of the young entertainers coming out of the Nickelodeon and Disney realm, people look at current artists who sell an incredible amount of records, all the way across the board from a Kanye West or 50 Cent or Jay-Z, all the way to an Aerosmith. They look at all these groups and say "Wow, it's incredible that these guys sell five, six or seven million records" or whatever their record sales are. Then I look at artists like Raven-Symone and the two girls from the group 3LW, they made up a group called The Cheetah Girls selling millions of records and they're on tour for $125,000 a night just on that Disney and Nickelodeon base. Then you have Corbin Bleu and Hilary Duff and JoJo, and I looked at currently Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, and they all came from The Mickey Mouse Club.

The Olsen twins will become billionaires and Raven-Symone is up in there in the hundreds and millions of dollars, more money than she would have ever made being a conventional actress. So I said "This is something that's becoming a major trend". No one’s ever said, "Let me start a full fledged kids company and become the Black Disney." I needed a foundation, and the foundation was diapers because I knew that was a great market that would never die. I started with the My Lil Star diaper line and at that point my internet business alone was [bringing in] $40,000 to $50,000 a month.

I started giving back and doing things of that nature. Now I'm saying I got a retail aspect that's going into the area of 11,000 stores in 2008, which is a pretty good launch even though there's more than 300,000 points of destination to buy diapers. For a new company that's a few years old, 11,000 stores, and we're already doing $40,000 to $50,000 a month, the next step was clothes. I got a friend of mine to get me some artists, Jay from FUBU got some artists together for me and got some sketches. The sketches came out better than I thought they would, [we put it out] to see if people would accept it, and came out with like half a million dollars in orders. Part of the premise was to make something that was affordable, correct?

Steve Marcano: Extremely affordable, everything of ours is affordable. I remember when I had my first son I couldn't afford diapers. Diapers are expensive - they're like $16.99 to $22.99. So we made these convenient, and the quality - I don’t care who tests. They can stand me against [other brands] any day of the week, and I'll be equal or better on any given day.

From growing up in the inner city I understand how the money is, and I understand that between 17 and 25 the average young lady has three children with just a high school education and the average young male has four. I understand that if you have four children, you have at least two in diapers. It's hard to knock on your neighbor's door and say, "I need 20 dollars", but it's real simple to say, "I need 5 dollars". So I put together convenience packs that sell anywhere from 14 to 20 diapers per shot and they retail for $4.79. It's great quality, and it's cool and celebrity endorsed.

I constantly get the diapers tested to make sure that the quality stays where they should be and that's what I did with the same premise on the kid's clothing line. You can get a whole outfit with me, for a young lady you can get a jacket, a pair of pants, a skirt and be able to change outfits, a two day outfit for $19.99. Yes, it seems like a lot of celebrities have gotten behind the brand. Who have you worked with so far?

Steve Marcano: We got a lot of celebrity endorsements from Don King to Zab Judah to Tichina Arnold, Salli Richardson [and] Dondre Whitfield. Going into actual retail stores, have you found that your online business is more successful, or are you seeing a balance with that?

Steve Marcano: I think the online business is not going to be as successful as retail, but we just did a joint venture with a company called EBE Media that increased our online presence. I don’t think there's no way in the world that we can basically compete [online] once we get into retail. You're looking at 11,000 stores, even if you're just doing a dollar a day per store that's $11,000 per day which is $300,000 a month. Have you found that people were more supportive of your brand since you are making sure that people could afford it?

Steve Marcano: I think that I had to do a grassroots marketing campaign which I'm doing now. Without the’s of the world and The Daily News and trade magazines, we could have the best product in the world and wouldn’t do well. I think the media is accepting us, and now that our financial status is enough where I could run commercials, now that we're getting accepted and doing cross campaigns for HBO, we're planning to do a big MTV and BET run. Once I get the word out [for] my demographic and what I want to hit I think we'll be the biggest brand as far as diapers go.

As far as affordability goes, I think there are going to be brands out there in the children's world that will always beat us because they're branded better, but I think we will become one of the most recognizable, affordable, best brands in the world at this point. I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but I think that in 24 months everybody will have at least one piece [of My Lil Star clothing]. I'm not gonna say that they're gonna stop using the things that they love. There's a lot of great lines out here, you got your Sean Johns and your G-Units and your Baby Phats - a lot of great people that make great stuff for kids. I think that a lot of people want their kids to have the best, those brands set a great niche.

I think like Starbury - once I'm able to show everybody through the media outlets that this is real cool and celebrities have been putting this on their kids, at that point we'll have a great chance of winning in the marketplace. You’re in Target and Walgreens now. Any plans for more retail outlets?

Steve Marcano: Well, I dont really want to get into the mentions of the outlets we're going to be in. I plan to hit every major outlet within the next eight to ten months. I think we're going to be everywhere, in a lot more outlets than Targets and Walgreens. We're currently working with a great distribution company and a great media company, I'm just lucky and blessed to have great PR. I think once the media supports us, I think everybody is going to support us. We've got a great product at a great price. That's the most important thing that I can do for what I want to do, and I respect what everybody else does.

I really have an interest right now in the kids market, and this is what I want to make my career and entire life. I want to do educational DVDs. I think it’s something that’s really important for me right now, and I know it’s something I want to do. You'll see a lot more - My Lil' World, the educational DVDs, with a company we're working with out in L.A. right now to show kids colors and numbers that's real affordable. I want to be able to have people on limited incomes being able to afford what we do, and clothe, diaper, and educate their kids. I want to be the company that does that.