By Talicia A. Flint
Thousands of American youths would be without their groove thang these days if it weren't for the entrepreneurial genius of Dwayne Lewis and Michael Cherry. As founders of New York City-based sportswear company Damani Dada, Lewis and Cherry have given a voice and an ultra-hip style to the urban fashion scene. Formed in May 1995 with one lone product and a mere $1,000 in pooled paychecks, Damani Dada has since made a name for itself, holding its own among runway greats like FUBU and Phat Farm. Sales for 1999 reached $40 million, and projections for 2000 are soaring to $70 million.
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When Lewis decided to leave his administrative job with a law firm to pursue his dream of owning his own company, who better to choose for a business partner than his childhood friend, roommate and fellow entrepreneur-at-heart? "I felt we should go into something that we had some connection to," explains Lewis. "Coming from New York City and being sharp dressers ourselves, we thought we would know enough to put out a good product."
Easier said than done. Lewis and Cherry admit they faced their share of challenges as beginners in the fashion industry. "It was very tricky to try and learn the business without a mentor," remembers Lewis. "We always struggled with the task of maintaining a strong financial backing, and we had to learn a lot by making mistakes." Their persistence paid off, though, in 1996, when Lewis set off to Las Vegas for MAGIC (Men's Apparel Guild In California) International, the largest men's apparel trade show in the world. Touting Damani Dada's first product, the five-panel Polo Hat, Lewis left the show with more than $10,000 in orders.
Damani Dada has since expanded its line to include a full line of men's clothing as well as a women's line that was introduced this fall. With distribution deals in Canada, France, Germany and Great Britain, and plans for another one in Asia, this dynamic duo has proved they know a thing or two about success. "Business is war, and there's more competition here than in any other genre," advises Lewis. "You have to be mentally strong, willing to sacrifice and willing to accept delayed gratification." By the looks of it, we'd say Damani Dada's gratification has finally come.