This week’s Interview is with AJ Jackson, a T-shirt Action Sportswear Pioneer -Los Angles, CA, New York City. Specialties include: Streetwear, Action Sports-inspired Apparel, T-shirts, Denim, Sales Reps, Trade Shows, Connection with Music Apparel Crossover Particularly Punk, Hip-Hop, Reggae, Dub, Indie

Questions by Label Networks; Responses by AJ Jackson

Coming from the T-shirt and action sportswear industry, what do you think about distribution and today’s new brands?

It takes serious amounts of groundwork to know where you should be distributing your T-shirt brand. It takes walking the streets and calling various stores and talking to people you believe in to tell you their read more here ideas as well.

Tell us about the sales cycles?

Sales cycles have changed tremendously since only a few years ago mainly because of the influences of online catalogues, online retail, and the speed on manufacturing, particularly of people creating their own lines or fast-fashion, and doing it in-country instead of outsourcing. Generally, there’s a 4-month preparation or window such as November/December is the timeframe for creating the next season for T-shirt collections. In T-shirts for example, there can be a Spring and Fall buying season usually done in February and late August, or 4 times per year. But with T-shirts, you don’t have to be 2 seasons ahead or more, like you do with denim. With denim, you have to be very strategic because you have to plan further ahead. With T-shirts, you can be 1 season ahead because the manufacturing cycle takes less time -especially if you manufacturer at home like American Apparel.

Tell us more about denim then in terms of cycles and deliveries of T-shirts and the process:

Denim takes longer to produce and usually your orders are bigger. You may have different price points. It can take 5 to 6 months by the time you have your designs, sourcing, and samples to the show room from manufacturers. But then again, you can’t sell without orders. A pattern-maker makes the designs and takes it to do small runs for example, samples which are then taken to trade shows where hopefully orders are written. Orders are at 1/3 the cost of the wholesale. The situation a lot of smaller brands get in is with distribution. They try to get money upfront to pay for deliveries. Stores write orders, but don’t necessarily pay upfront. Little stores pay on COD of the delivery of their goods. What’s important therefore is diversification with distribution and stores and even online. Diversification is key.

What do you think about stores creating their own brands and online sales?

Stores creating their own brands are a good idea sometimes but they are not always aware of brands or trends. You need to know what’s up to do this successfully. But boutiques are making a comeback because of the internet and other aspects of new brands and distribution. For example, boutiques are making a comeback everywhere -even in the middle of Iowa.

When it comes to creating a brand manufacturing, sales reps, and getting into boutiques, what do you think is the weakest link in this chain for creating success?

One thing that has helped small brands has been the increase in distribution to get your own brand into online boutiques. This has helped because sales reps are still the weakest link in the chain from getting a brand to market. This is because many sales reps carry several brands and are used to making pretty good money with certain brands, so if you’re a new brand, they may not take the time to first off, show your line appropriately, or do the necessary research to find new cool boutiques. They’ll often go back to the same ones over and over and not push things that are new because they know where they can make their money which is a percentage of the orders they write from buyers they know. This happens often with male sales reps rep-ing women’s lines. Especially in sneakers, denim, and T-shirts -or streetwear in general. It’s really important to have a good sales rep crew, but also one that’s open to new ideas, change, sourcing new stores for you.

What else about the cycle of sales reps and boutiques?

Bigger brands often have regional sales reps -they may be repping 15 brands within a certain area. So you can’t blame them 100% for not doing a good job with smaller, newer brands, but you should be aware of this. For boutiques, sometimes it’s easier to control the business because you don’t deal with as many sales reps, which is the same for smaller brands.

What do you think about showrooms vs. trade shows?

It’s an interesting concept to be a part of a showroom team. There are reps there working for you all the time -not just during trade show season because for example, places like California Mart or New Mart or the Cooper Building in downtown Los Angeles, or show rooms in New York like BPMW, they are there all the time for buyers at any time They can create events around your brand and they are promoting it for you. There’s a change going on between show rooms and trade shows -as well as %u201Cinformal retail%u201D and formal retail. Pop-up vs. stationary retail. They are all quite linked.

Given your experience with people creating new lines what do you think of the movement whereby designers are leaving the big fashion houses or even larger streetwear and action sports brands to start their own line?

Many times, good designers gain a lot of experience working for say, Marc Jacobs or brands like Volcom that were very progressive. Eventually they often have their own story to tell and break away and create good designs and their own brand–but have no idea about branding, marketing, and these things. Good designers are not always the next marketers. Not to mention sales people. They come out with their own thing, but have no idea what shops to be in or how much they should charge. For example, they wouldn’t know that in a skate shop they’d better be at a price point of $25 for that T-shirt rather than $45 which you should consider for boutiques.

What do you think about some of the stores that could make an impact out there if they only changed their design and format?

Selfridges in London did a great job of changing their layout to move from having staid, similar brands in one location to mixing it up with streetwear hear, larger brands there, and making the mall more of a boutique-y feel. Even H&M in Europe has added interesting aspects such as faux-vintage section. I think that with the importance of sneaker culture, Lady Footlocker is another chain that’s over-due for a make-over. Lady Footlocker could have killed it on this scene by now, but no one has created a new lifestyle around it. It needs graffiti and street artists, ladies in the scene, lifestyle, b-girls, you name it. They could really take a stance.

What do you think about the influence of music in streetwear fashion?

I come from urban fashion, from action sports fashion too and creating a men’s streetwear line. What’s interesting over the years is that people like Jay-Z, Sean Jean and now new guys like Omari, they’ve shaken up the status quo of fashion. They came out of the box with their music and fashion label. It’s not just a record label, but your own label, distribution, contacts, clothing line. They pull off their clothing line within 6 months of cutting a major record deal.

Musicians have created street-cred for many brands and created a lifestyle and niche industries in fashion. It’s so successful that people in old-school fashion houses are realizing that trends are coming from the streets -from the bottom-up. From people who hustle. And we’re usually the type that come from not having much at all. Like sports, it can be your way out of the ghetto so you practice hard. There’s a reason so many top soccer players (and DJ’s) in Brazil are from the favelas. Music and your raps can be your ticket -just like streetwear fashion. You’ve got people creating fashion because they are hungry, eager, making a statement for a better life. In terms of music, before you know it, bands are taking shelf space from record labels, and now bands are taking shelf space from well-known clothing lines. Merch and band-inspired brands and fashion are just beginning to make their move. It’s going to get a lot bigger. Fashion as an industry needs to be aware of this. New brands -that’s a place to be -in with up-and-coming bands.

What about skateboarding-inspired brands?

Skateboarding brands have gone as far as they can go. Many used to be distributors and are now they are their own brands. Look at DC. They have to move elsewhere and some are with new collaborations with people like Zennetti rims sponsoring a skate team or DipSet’s inline DipSkate team. It’s sad in many ways that skate brands are afraid of change. That has a lot to do with retailers too, and then again the sales reps situation but those that aren’t and there are plenty crossing over into other genres–they are the one’s with the vision to take it to the next level.

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