A wise man named Adam Silverman once said, "[Young people] are not interested in looking like each other or their parents." Damn straight. That's why Levi's and Nike are having a heck of a time revamping their images to court Gen Y. Unfortunately, cool kids see right through multimillion-dollar marketing strategies.
"That's our soapbox, if we have one," says Silverman (top right), co-owner of The X-Large Corp., the Los Angeles manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer of clothing brands X-Large, Mini and X-Girl (sold only in Japan). "[People] need to support niche labels so everyone doesn't wind up wearing Gap, drinking Starbucks and buying furniture from Ikea."
Silverman, 36, and partner Eli Bonerz (top left), 33, commenced their mission back in 1991. When their architecture degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence landed them $11-an-hour jobs, the roommates decided to dream up something better: a business that would give them both autonomy and cash. Using $48,000 they raised from friends and family, they launched X-Large. Reaping upwards of $10 million last year, the partners expect sales of more than $15 million this year.
Word-of-mouth and tons of editorial coverage have supplied free advertising, and remaining subculturally unbiased has made X-Large popular among everybody from snowboarders to hip-hop enthusiasts. "[We wanted] a company that would reflect us, our age, our friends and our environment," says Silverman. Somehow, they've done it without becoming played-out.
The keys are to make the most of your time, build a rapport with magazines and stay focused. Says Silverman, "You've got to think: Am I going to spend my eight hours designing ads, or building an interesting company worth talking about? The latter's the better way to go."