How One Entrepreneur Turned a Dance Trend Into a Glowing Empire
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Brian Lim preferred dancing in the dark. That’s how he is -- modest, soft-spoken, definitely not showy. But at an electronic dance music (EDM) club six years ago, his girlfriend nudged him to don a pair of gloves with fingertips covered in blinking LED lights. It’s the sole tool required for “gloving,” a dance in which lit-up hands create light-streaked spectacles for (possibly but not exclusively intoxicated) onlookers. “I was able to captivate a small crowd around me,” Lim says. “It was a feeling I’d never had before.”
It was also the inspiration for what would become Emazing Group, Lim’s fast-growing empire of rave accessories. It did $7 million in sales in 2014 and $12 million last year, and is on track for $18 million this year. But his company started much more modestly, with a hunch: This subculture had a popular product but no go-to brand.
Lim tested the market shortly after his night at the club. He paid an electronics hobbyist $100 to affix keychain lights onto white gloves, then sold them under the name Emazing Lights through Craigslist and eBay. Sales were brisk. To build attention, he started a weekly glover meet-up at his local In-N-Out burger in Baldwin Park, Calif. Ten or so people came at first, but attendance soon grew to the hundreds. “We got run out by the cops at least three times,” says Lim. “We had to go parking-lot hopping.”
In 2011, he faced an even bigger hurdle: Gloving was banned by one of the country’s most prominent EDM festival promoters. (Why? It caused fans to lie on the floor “gazing at the designs,” the promoter said at the time.) This undercut Lim’s market, so he thought about how skateboarding overcame similar problems -- bans in parks, a favorite target of cops -- to become a $4.8 billion industry. His takeaway: Gloving had to shake its niche origins. So he assembled a team to wow audiences at mainstream events, created an International Gloving Championship and launched an ambassador program. “We’re giving people money, products, whatever support is needed to host their own gloving events at clubs, parks, anywhere,” Lim says.
Lim’s gloves have evolved, too. Some models respond to the speed and angle of a user’s hand, and soon others will be Bluetooth-enabled so dancers can control light combinations via smartphone. They’ll sell for up to $150. But Lim knows his company can’t rely solely upon a dance craze, so he has diversified as well. In 2011, he founded a second company, iHeartRaves, that makes outlandish EDM festival wear—tutus, LED-lit fur coats, go-go shorts and more. In 2013, he acquired Into the AM, a brand that produces slightly more toned-down apparel (like, say, LED-lined sneakers). He now has six retail shops across the United States and Canada.
His goal, he says, is to “become the Nike of the electronic dance music scene.” And with talk like that, he no longer sounds like a guy who prefers dancing in the dark.