Blac Label Premium: Big Guys Can Cet Fly Too

Maybe you haven’t seen it coming. Maybe it snuck up on you. But out of nowhere, the run-of-the-mill “Big and Tall” community let go of their bland prehistoric colors schemes, oversized t-shirts and sweat suits, and emerged as fashion trendsetters. You could turn to any sports channel and watch as stars like Lebron James, enter […]

Maybe you haven’t seen it

coming. Maybe it snuck up on you. But out of nowhere, the run-of-the-mill

“Big and Tall” community let go of their bland prehistoric colors

schemes, oversized t-shirts and sweat suits, and emerged as fashion

trendsetters. You could turn to any sports channel and watch as stars

like Lebron James, enter the arena at 6’ 7”, 275 plus pounds, dipped

in the freshest of fabrics, and clearly proud of his fashion sense.

Little over five years ago, NBA players would walk into the arena looking

like they just stepped out of a fried chicken establishment headed to

a rap video shoot. 

A huge part of this change

was built on destined circumstances. Mike “Black” Yussuff, born in

London, raised in the Bronx, is the conceptual mind behind establishing

Blac Label Premium. Out of college, Mike worked as a Financial Reporting

Analyst at Saks Fifth Avenue and then Liz Clairborne before circumstances

led him to take a severance package. In 2002, he became General Manager

at Total Sports, Inc. a retail chain based in Philadelphia, owned by

his close friend and colleague, Mike Harris. Today, the Blac Label Premium

brand has transformed from making 6 million annually to 50 million in

just menswear.  

Mike “Black” Yussuff sat

down with to tell a story of perseverance, self

belief and being mindful of every moment. Nowadays,

becoming an entrepreneur is the popular move compared to the best move

for a persons’ skill set. What do you feel is the one quality the

separates the contenders from the pretenders? 

Mike “Black” Yussuff: I

feel that an important quality to have as an entrepreneur is being able

to remove yourself from the situation, to look at that particular situation

from a different angle. For example, people that have a favorite recording

artist. And that artist most likely has something going on in their

life. Because you love that artist, you overlook the facts of what’s

going on in their life. For me, I’ll step out of that love and say,

“wait, maybe I’m being biased because I love this artist, I need

to remove myself from that love and see what’s in front of me.”

With clothing, I particularly like holes in my jeans. But when I look

around the room, I see three people with holes in their jeans. So maybe

I shouldn’t make jeans with holes in it, even though that’s what

I love. I prefer

to wear my jeans out (wear and tear creates natural holes) on my own. 

Mike “Black” Yussuff: Right,

maybe you want to wear your jeans out naturally. So that’s where other

designers often get caught up in what’s particular to them and their

style. That doesn’t always translate into the market. Blac Label

Premium opened up and expanded a market that once steered clear of the

“Big and Tall” being fashionably current. So how did it all come


Mike “Black” Yussuff: When

I saw the decline in the licensed good market, I wanted something that

fit more like my personal style at the time. I’m 6’ 4”, 225 pounds

and all our friends were the same size or bigger than Mike Harris and

me. So if we couldn’t find clothes, our friends definitely couldn’t

find clothes. 

Everything happens for a reason.

I had a surgery for a medical issue. I lost weight due to that. So I

started wearing all the premium brands that I couldn’t fit before.

This one particular time, we were at the All-Star Game in Houston, going

from one venue to another. We piled into a limo and met this Italian

guy from NYC who was sitting there with his fiancée. His fiancée looked

at me and said, “I really like how you dress, I like your style.”

After she said that, my crew turned their attention to my style that

night and each took turns on what they did and didn’t like about what

I was wearing. That information gave me an epiphany. And that epiphany

led to the creation of Blac Label Premium. 

I’m not an artist, so I don’t

draw. So I put together a Power Point presentation, brought it to HeadGear

Inc. which was dealing on Negro League Baseball and Black College at

the time. They were looking for something new to work on. So we linked

up and from there I gave out clothing to my friends that either played

Basketball or Football. I gave clothing to Al Harrington and Vernon

Davis. I also gave clothing to the promoters that I knew in Washington

DC and Philly, like Mike Walkin and Taz in DC, Smooth Troy in Philly.

Then I just worked the street angle since we didn’t have any marketing

dollars. It took time but it caught on. We were that transition brand

because slimming down wasn’t the look at the time. Our sizes went

up to 6X. For example, let’s say that a guy my size walks into the

store looking for a 4X. The 4X wasn’t available but he really loved

the shirt so he buys a 3X. He takes it home, puts it on and his girlfriend

asks him what size the shirt is because she likes how it fits him. Now,

he’s a 3X. He comes back to the store as a 3X, but loves a shirt that

is 2X. Once again his girl likes the way it fits him. Now, he’s a

2X. We were a brand that bridged the gap. If you wanted to slim down,

we had it for you; if you wanted to dress oversized, we had it for you.

It is a logistical nightmare keeping that type of inventory and that

type of size scale. But no one else was doing it or not doing it as

well. Usually when brands go above a 3X, they change the offering, style

and color-wise, as if big guys don’t want to be fresh. We’re in

a trending society. One person hits off, everybody wants a piece of

it. Let’s talk about the word “Premium”. It adds a flare to your

brand name; a flare that others may try to lift for their brand. What

does the word “Premium” means to your brand? 

Mike “Black” Yussuff: Mike

Harris and I, when we were working with Mitchell and Ness, we had access

to their manufacturers. What was a good part about working with Mitchell

and Ness was that they liked to make clothes exactly how they were made

originally. So if they were going to make a Philadelphia Eagles 1975

Wool Jacket, they wanted to use the same wool from that time. The clothing

was dope, but we had to charge $500 for the jackets because the NFL

had to get their money. So Mike and I thought, if we could take these

dope material jackets, hoodies, and make them plain, we could offer

it for half the price and sell just as many. So that’s where the Blac

Label Premium title came about. We sell premium product. We felt like

our brand name didn’t rub people one way or the other. Blac Label

Premium is versatile, easily expandable. Being a designer,

seeing the future is very important. Take us a few quarters from now

and let us know what you feel is next for 2010. 

Mike “Black” Yussuff: 2010

will be a time where people will clean their fashion palate. Right now,

there is shift where people aren’t looking at one particular style.

I was just talking about this… this is the first time in my life when

fashion is without a must-have item. Every generation had their must-have

item, mine had the Starter jackets. Tonight, we have 300 people at this

event, and everybody has their own look. I’ve been looking around

and couldn’t find two people with the same look. People want something

to set them apart. So what we are looking at are different treatments

we could do with basic items. T-Shirts have been a major part of our

business. Right now, people are pretty much doing a plain “T’ with

something over it. This year it was cardigans. Next year, I believe

it will be dope lightweight jackets. People will wear lightweight jackets

almost like shirts. Instead of spending $100 on a shirt, they’ll spend

it on a jacket and wear it with a white “T” under it or a black

V-neck up under it. People will change from jacket to jacket on a daily

basis. You came

into your business in an unorthodox way, compared to those that dreamt

every night about having a successful company in fashion. What type

of advice would you give to those that would like to be in your position? 

Mike “Black” Yussuff predicts fashion trends for 2010

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Mike “Black” Yussuff: This

is a balancing game. You can’t lean too far one way or the other.

You just have to be sure. When you know that something will work, you

must be sure of it. When you receive criticisms, you must investigate

the criticisms. There’s a disconnect in fashion between designers,

retailers and customers. So even though I may think that a customer

wants something, I have to get the store to buy it, to get the product

to the customer. Think of ways to get your point across.