Darrell Alston of Bungee Oblečení: “Find a great photographer”

Find a great photographer: Once I found a photographer to take beautiful pics of our merchandise, sales improved significantly. Our social media grew immediately, which converted into sales. Put a team to help: One of my biggest mistakes was thinking I could do everything myself. Once my team was put together, we divided and conquered, and […]

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Find a great photographer: Once I found a photographer to take beautiful pics of our merchandise, sales improved significantly. Our social media grew immediately, which converted into sales.

Put a team to help: One of my biggest mistakes was thinking I could do everything myself. Once my team was put together, we divided and conquered, and everything got better.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Darrell Alston, CEO and designer of Bungee Oblečení sneakers and apparel. Mr. Alston grew up on the outskirts of Philadelphia. In high school he realized that he had a talent for writing and performing rap music and wanted more than anything to be a successful rap artist and live life like the performers whose music and lifestyles he so admired. He started having some success and notoriety, which led to him touring with some of the biggest names in the genre in the early 2000s. As his name got out there, he realized that his income didn’t come close to keeping up with the lifestyle he sought, which he thought he needed in order to be looked at as the successful artist he desperately wanted to be.
This led to him making some incredibly bad decisions. He was arrested and sentenced to prison. After he got out, he got tripped up over a probation restriction and was sent back and did a total of 6.5 years. While incarcerated, he spent any free time that he had sketching and creating unique sneaker designs. People in prison told him the designs were cool, interesting and unique. He heard much the same after he got out, but he didn’t know anything about how or where to have them produced and most importantly, how he was going to fund it. So, he did what he learned in prison and what his mentors told him that he needed to do now. He worked. Hard. Constantly. Cutting hair at a barbershop to pay for his first sneaker order, and when he wasn’t doing that, talking to anyone who could tell him about the sneaker business. He finally launched his line, which has been growing ever since. That was 6 years ago and he’s still here doing what he loves.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

My childhood was amazing! I grew up in an urban working poor to middle class neighborhood outside of Philadelphia. I’m an only child that grew up with my parents, but I stayed at my grandparents’ house a lot because that’s where I had the most fun. At their house, I had my aunts, uncles, and cousins that kept things very interesting, to say the least. In that neighborhood there was always something going on because there were so many types of characters there. Each one played a significant role in my upbringing.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

I actually didn’t plan on being in the fashion industry. I wanted to be a rap star. That was the only profession that I saw myself in. Unfortunately, I was arrested and sentenced to prison, which ultimately destroyed my rap career. During my incarceration, I was thinking about the sneakers that I used to wear, and for some reason I decided to sketch one. To my surprise, the sketch looked exactly like the original sneaker. At that point, I sketched another and decided to add my own logo. I was so entertained by sketching that I sketched over 200 more designs before I was released from prison.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The biggest mistake that I made was not hiring quality control to check on the manufacturer during our first production run. Our first sneaker sample was produced in 2013, and I loved it, but when I placed the order for 1,000 pairs, the manufacturer added extra thick padding to the heel with a very thin, cheap sole. It made the sneaker look like an elephant foot! I was pissed off! Of course, I didn’t see the mistake until the 1,000 pairs arrived. I still remember how my heart dropped when I first pulled the sneakers out of the box. I was so mad because once they arrived, I couldn’t return them. I wasn’t able to sell many at all, and unfortunately, I still have a lot of them today.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I would go with a film called “Blow.” Every time I watch it, I get a little emotional. At the end of the movie the main character George (Johnny Depp) decides to make one last run at a huge drug sale. He told his daughter he’d be back for her so they could move far away and spend time together. As he was getting busted by the feds, his daughter with her bags packed was on the steps waiting for him to come home. It hurts so much seeing that because that’s incredibly similar to what happened to me and my kids. Without warning, I was taken away from them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

You can’t control what happens, you can only control your actions. This sticks with me because I had to learn the hard way that I cannot control what is meant to be, but I can control my emotions and take charge of how I react. In my past I couldn’t control my emotions and actions, which led me down a path of destruction on several levels.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, let’s define our terms. How do you define a Lifestyle Brand? How is a Lifestyle Brand different from a normal, typical brand?

In my opinion, a lifestyle brand speaks to certain consumers and pushes them to buy a product regarding the lifestyle that brand represents. Lifestyle brands are focused on long-term relationships with their customers. A regular brand is a brand that you buy a one-off product and that’s it. Non-lifestyle brands might focus on sales goals, but they don’t connect with their audience like a lifestyle brand does.

What are the benefits of creating a lifestyle brand?

The main benefit of creating a lifestyle brand for me is the connection with our consumers. Our sneakers and apparel are designed, produced and made for a specific person. One of my top priorities is for our customers to want to continue to purchase our products as they mature while we grow.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved Lifestyle Brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

There are actually two that come to mind immediately: Polo and Rolex. Both brands create a personal connection to their consumers. When I see a Rolex ad, I want to be that guy with that Rolex. I want to be where he is, doing what he’s doing. Same with Polo. They may not consider themselves as a lifestyle brand, but in my mind they are. As far as replicating it, I’m not sure how it could be done, but I’m still learning every day and I’m committed to making it happen.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a lifestyle brand that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

That’s a good question. What I’ve done so far is to create what I would want to wear personally. That’s when I realized there’s plenty of people out there with the same taste in fashion and clothing as me. I feel like it’s impossible to know what people will like while creating. You never know what will hit or miss, which is why I go with my instincts and design sneakers and apparel that I’m excited to wear.

What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a lifestyle brand? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The most common mistake that I see in struggling lifestyle brands is launching with cheaper materials. The look and feel of the merchandise are critical towards the items being worn, as nobody wants to wear merchandise that isn’t comfortable or begins to fall apart. One of my favorite lessons in the fashion business is that consumers are salespeople for your products. If they’re wearing them, they’re exposing others to the work. And if the person seeing the gear likes the way it looks; they’re likely going to ask the person wearing it where they purchased it or begin a search to buy it. In addition, new lifestyle brands need to design their products from scratch, have reputable manufacturers produce them, and have tags (and hang tags) professionally made.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a lifestyle brand that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

I would recommend that they do their research. Figure out their demographic and price point. Put a budget together. And then find a manufacturer to produce samples. Once you find the quality that you’re looking for, show it to friends and family. Then start posting on social media to get engagement and pre-orders. That way you’re prepared to order the shipment and may have even sold a nice percentage of the inventory before it arrives. Most importantly, be original. There are millions of people out there with the same dream. Stand apart and stand alone.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) You have to know who you’re selling to: You need to know the demographic of your audience. I had to learn that the hard way. I started selling without a plan because I felt like everyone could wear my merchandise. That’s not true. I needed a foundation first.

2) Create a budget: You have to know what your budget is before ordering products. I didn’t have a budget and my plans backfired because I didn’t take shipping costs, taxes, import taxes, and delivery into consideration, and I lost money on my first shipment.

3) Build a good website! I tried to take shortcuts at first, which was a huge mistake. People didn’t trust a website full of cell phone pictures.

4) Find a great photographer: Once I found a photographer to take beautiful pics of our merchandise, sales improved significantly. Our social media grew immediately, which converted into sales.

5) Put a team to help: One of my biggest mistakes was thinking I could do everything myself. Once my team was put together, we divided and conquered, and everything got better.

Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

A financial empowerment movement. Teaching growth through local investments and HBCU scholarships. Helping underprivileged youth and young parents giving them the tools to build a future for their kids and families. Teaching health and wealth as a way of slowing down the jail train. Providing options where there aren’t many.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to sit down and have lunch with Damon John. I feel like he started his brand FUBU from nothing, similar to my travels. His experience and story would be amazing to discuss. Every road that I’m traveling on right now, he has already driven. Even though things are looking great for Bungee Oblečení, I would still have a million questions for him.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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