Who Is the Man Behind Those 'Blue MAGA' Hats?
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If you logged onto Twitter this morning, you may have noticed the phrase "Blue MAGA" trending and run for the hills. Or, like us, you indulged your curiosity and clicked through, surprised to find that people were polarized over a fledgling apparel brand subverting President Trump's "Make America Great Again" mantra by selling blue hats stitched with the phrase, "Made America Great Already."
A succession of critical Tweets from far-left influencers espousing thoughts like, "We already have Blue MAGA. It's called not being MAGA" brought the less than two-year-old company — dubbed, naturally, Made America Great Already, LLC — into the fore overnight, both inflaming ideological debate and, naturally, boosting sales. In fact, as company President and CEO Sampson Daruvalla confirmed in a call earlier today with Entrepreneur, they've experienced their biggest surge in orders yet.
But Daruvalla, a Miami Beach-based Senior Advisor, Chief at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, never intended to incite hostilities one way or the other. And he's in fact an avid Joe Biden supporter. (The company's official Twitter handle is @BidenHarrisHats.) His aspiration was, as he tells it, twofold: explore a potential retail-startup idea while broadcasting his particular patriotic message.
We pressed the 47-year-old FEMA staffer and side hustler on the germ of his idea, potential professional consequences, adapting his salesmanship to changing circumstances and making the most of Made America Great Already's moment in social media's crosshairs.
At what point did you decide that, despite your being a government employee, you were going to launch a side business that took such a partisan slant?
Charlottesville. When Trump said there were good people on both sides. That's when I started kicking my heels. The other catalyst was when he wouldn't denounce white supremacy. I was also living in Alexandria, Virginia at the time of the Lafayette Square protests where they unloaded on those great Americans fulfilling their rights and their common duty to let their voices be heard. I was two minutes up the road when that happened. It's been a [gathering] storm.
You also clearly saw an entrepreneurial opening? What was the calculation there like?
That was simple. My mom's African-American, my dad's Persian, from Mumbai. We grew up not having everything, so we learned early on to take whatever is meant to hurt us or harm us and flip it for our good. We have a history of greatness in this country we should not ignore. When I think about my grandfather who was a shoe-shiner making a nickel a shine and putting all his kids through college, it's pretty amazing. I make really good money in the government, I make really good money as a day trader, and now I make really good money selling these hats. And the best part is we donate 10% of our proceeds to college scholarships and military families in need.
Are you protected from getting blowback at your job for doing this?
I'm not protected. I had people reach out to me saying they work for Trump's administration and [asking] how could I be doing this? As if I have to be loyal to whoever the sitting president is. That's not the case. I know what the Hatch Act says. I know my own privacy. I would love to see someone remove me from doing a quality job. If someone tried that, it would be a very interesting ending. I don't have any fear there. I understand. A lot of my colleagues are like, "Sam, this is a little bold." Yeah, it is. But I worked under Bush, I worked under Obama, and now I work under Trump, and I never had this type of feeling.
What was your overall reaction to the sudden social-media attention — good and bad — to the company?
I looked at my Amazon seller account and went, "Phew, time for me to restock." It's funny because usually, the people who comment are the haters. The ones that love it are the ones going straight to the site and are buying the hat. I was thinking about responding to the haters because they say you should engage with the people who are against you and you'll get more followers and more hate, but it's good publicity and you'll generate more sales over time, but I'm not going to do any of that.
But a lot of the hate came from progressives who wanted nothing to do with that acronym. Did that come as a shock?
If I'm able to employ a small team and help them bring home the bacon, help a student with their college tuition [or] give money to a mother that lost their spouse in battle, it's all worth it for me. I hear what they're saying. I wanted it to be controversial, but I want it to be less about politics and more about people. The platform was an easy one to select, and when I noticed it wasn't trademarked, I got the brand registry so no one else could use it. It's been a learning process for me, and it's creating intellectual dialogue, and some of it is dumb dialogue, but at least it's making people talk.
You actually filed for the trademark before Biden even announced he was running. How shrewd was the decision to ultimately conform your marketing to his campaign?
It was going to be for whoever was going to be on that Democratic ticket. When I got the trademark, I did not know Biden was going to be on the ticket, but I knew I was going to align myself with whoever was and do my best to do the door knocks and social media outreach and college engagement to get out the vote. But you're right. The keyword you used is shrewd. I can't argue that one.
So if you continue making a good living with this company, is the goal to retire from the government and be a full-time entrepreneur?
That's the key. I have [another] trademark pending right now. Made America Great Already opened my eyes to how simple it is to protect your creative IP, and I said to myself, "What's next? Let me do something that's not as controversial." I went on the trademark site and typed in, "With God," and it was not taken. So I'm going to be pushing out T-shirts, hats socks, yoga pants everything that says, "With God" on it. And the whole intent is, with God, you can do anything. It doesn't have a negative stigma attached to it. I would love to sit back and see these two trademarks continue to make differences in people's lives. And I don't have to deal with as much hate mail.