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Keeping Your Cool

You're either cool or you're not. If you are, here's how to make the most of it.

The trouble with selling things on the street, from shopping bags or from the trunk of your car, is that when it rains, you get awfully wet.

But who cares? Daymond John no longer needs an umbrella. Several years ago, he and his friends (Carl Brown, J. Alexander Martin and Keith Perrin) were on the avenues and in the alleys, selling clothing they designed to any New Yorker they could find. "It came out of necessity . . . to make everyday money," says John, now 29. "After awhile, we started liking what we were doing."

They became an enterprise with a roof in 1992, calling themselves FUBU (For Us, By Us), and one of their biggest breaks came when John approached an old neighborhood acquaintance. Soon, L.L. Cool J was wearing a new brand of clothes. Kids who watched MTV saw the rapper, and after-school job wages and allowances were funneled into FUBU. A lot of allowances. Today, FUBU is worth more than $200 million.

Teenagers own the world, of course. They just let the rest of us live here. "The teen consumer is determining not just urban culture, but also pop culture and pop trends," says Sam Brown, vice president of advertising and marketing for Icon Lifestyle Marketing in New York City, which helps companies like Hugo Boss Fragrances target young African Americans.

More to the point, teenagers decide which companies have street credibility. And whoever's got street credibility can co-own the world.

You might want street credibility. You might savor it. And yet you might not have a clue what street you belong on. "Who are you trying to sell your product to?" wonders John. "The street has several different aspects. The street has skate, the street has surf, the street has grunge. It has club, it has techno, it has hip-hop."

And keep this in mind: You either have street credibility, or you don't. "You can't buy it," stresses soft-drink entrepreneur Peter van Stolk. What if your business cup overrunneth with coolness, but nobody knows it? Fortunately, accessing street credibility is way possible, and it's da bomb, and if this square-as-a-cubicle journalist was hip enough to know any other teen slang words, he would put them in this sentence.


Geoff Williams (gwilli2181@aol.com) is a 29-year-old freelance writer and part-time features reporter for The Cincinnati Post. He thinks Billy Joel is cool, Katie Couric hot, and enjoys a mean game of Scrabble. He's pretty sure that if he ever went out into the street, he'd either be beaten up or run over.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the September 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Keeping Your Cool.

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