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    ECKO UNLTD and COMPLEX: Marc Ecko

    enJune 03, 2024

    Podcast Summary

    • Hip hop culture and streetwearStaying true to passions and adapting to changing markets led Mark Echo to build a successful streetwear brand, Echo Unlimited, worth over $100 million, and later pivot to a media company, Complex.

      Mark Echo's passion for hip hop and graffiti culture played a significant role in the success of his streetwear brand, Echo Unlimited. Starting in the 1990s, Echo used his artistic skills to create unique designs that resonated with a growing youth culture. Despite the vast competition in the fashion industry, Echo's brand stood out, leading to sales of over $100 million. When the brand went into decline, Echo pivoted and founded Complex, a media company that focused on youth culture trends. Echo's story highlights the importance of staying true to one's passions and adapting to changing markets. To learn more about Mark Echo and his journey, listen to the full episode of "How I Built This" with Guy Raz.

    • Starting smallStarting small and facing challenges can lead to great success through determination, persistence, and building a network of trust and understanding.

      Starting small and building from the ground up can lead to great success. The speaker's journey from selling custom t-shirts in high school to creating elaborate denim jackets and eventually running a successful business is a testament to this. He credits his early experiences, from knocking on a publisher's door to learning photography from his father, as formative in developing his skills and identity. Despite facing challenges in a new social environment, he persisted in pursuing his passion for art and self-expression. This determination paid off, leading him to connect with influential figures in the hip hop industry and eventually build a media infrastructure around his business. The name "Echo" was inspired by his family's history and became a symbol of his identity and mission to "educate, change, heal, and overcome." Ultimately, the speaker's story demonstrates the power of staying true to oneself and building a network of trust and understanding to achieve success.

    • Entrepreneurial PersistenceStaying focused on the vision and being open to new opportunities can lead to entrepreneurial success despite initial setbacks and skepticism

      Persistence and the ability to adapt are key to entrepreneurial success. The interviewee, Mark Ein, recounts his early experiences in the airbrushing business where he struggled to secure investors. Despite this setback, he continued to explore ways to scale his business and eventually met a partner, Seth Gursberg, who provided the necessary capital and expertise. However, their partnership was initially met with skepticism due to the perceived dishonesty of Gursberg's business dealings. Despite this, Ein eventually came around and the two went on to build a successful business together. The story illustrates the importance of staying focused on the vision for the business and being open to new opportunities, even if they come from unexpected sources.

    • Echo Unlimited's early strugglesDespite initial challenges like selling on consignment and slow payment, Echo Unlimited's founders persevered and eventually found success by attending trade shows and introducing a key symbol, the rhino, to expand their product line.

      The early days of Echo Unlimited, a successful streetwear brand, involved a lot of hustle and earnest determination. Mark, the founder, had the vision of creating a lifestyle brand with elaborate designs, but initially, they had to sell products to make money. They couldn't produce the intricate designs they wanted due to technical constraints, so they walked door-to-door in New York City to sell their shirts on consignment. The process was slow and not all stores paid on time, but they eventually started attending trade shows to expand their reach. The brand's success came at a time when hip-hop and graffiti culture were influencing fashion, and Echo Unlimited stood out with its explicit ties to that scene. A key symbol of the brand, the rhino, was introduced about three years in as they looked to expand beyond t-shirts. Through perseverance and a clear vision, Echo Unlimited found success in the emerging streetwear market.

    • Brand Identity in FashionHaving a unique and recognizable brand identity is crucial for success in the fashion industry. Early resistance to a distinct logo led to strong sales, but challenges like manufacturing issues, costly partnerships, and legal disputes underscored the importance of a clear and protected brand identity.

      Having a unique and recognizable brand identity is crucial for success in the fashion industry. The speaker, Ernest, shares how he was inspired by other established brands with distinct mascots and sought to create his own non-verbal label for his cut-and-sew denim line. However, he faced resistance from buyers who saw his rhino logo as reminiscent of outdoor or hunting brands. After producing a capsule collection and experiencing strong sales, he began building a team and finding a manufacturing partner to improve efficiency and profitability. Despite early successes, the business faced challenges such as late deliveries, manufacturing issues, and a costly agency partnership. Eventually, they faced a cease and desist order from a company with a similar name, forcing them to change their brand name and recall merchandise. Through these experiences, Ernest learned the importance of having a strong brand identity, effective manufacturing partnerships, and being adaptable to unexpected challenges.

    • Brand name disputeA brand name dispute can be costly and time-consuming, but with determination, adaptability, and creativity, businesses can turn a setback into an opportunity for growth.

      During the early stages of building Echo Unlimited, Mark Ecko faced a significant setback when he was forced to change the name of his brand due to a trademark dispute with Echo Design Group. This costly and time-consuming process came at a time when the company was already facing financial challenges, including overspending on advertising and an issue with a partnership that resulted in breach of contract. To recover from these setbacks, Mark and his team made a bold move by raiding a warehouse to reclaim their merchandise, although it didn't go as planned. Despite these challenges, Mark's determination and resilience helped him turn the absence from a big trade show into an advantage, ultimately leading to the success of Ecko Unlimited. This story highlights the importance of perseverance, adaptability, and creativity in overcoming adversity in business.

    • Echo's financial struggles and turning pointDuring financial instability, Echo adopted a low-key marketing strategy at a trade show which resulted in huge sales. Struggles led them to focus on improving production and manufacturing, resulting in iconic hoodies.

      During a legal dispute in 1997, the founders of Echo were faced with financial instability and considered selling the brand to larger companies like Levi's or Nautica. However, they couldn't find a fair offer and instead opted for a debt deal with a creditor, Alan Finkelman, who required ownership collateral. The team used their financial struggles as an opportunity to adopt a low-key marketing strategy at a major trade show, which gained significant attention and resulted in huge sales. This experience taught them to focus on improving production and manufacturing infrastructure, with Marcy becoming a world-class operator and the founder becoming a more focused merchant. The core product was fleece hoodies, which became synonymous with cool events and advertising, despite initial production challenges. The unintended consequences of shipping late or off-cycle actually created more demand for the brand.

    • Media landscape shiftsIdentifying market gaps and adapting to changing media landscapes are crucial for business success, but navigating these shifts can be challenging and may require difficult decisions.

      Mark Echo, the founder of Echo Apparel and Complex Media, identified a gap in the market for a culturally relevant media platform that catered to convergence culture. Frustrated with the limitations imposed by traditional media industries, he decided to create Complex magazine to extend his brand and reach a wider audience. However, despite initial success, the print version of the magazine struggled due to the shift to online media and financial challenges faced by Echo Enterprise. This led to disagreements between Echo and his business partner Seth, ultimately resulting in Echo selling his stake in Mark Echo Unlimited to Iconics for $109 million, allowing Seth to keep a 49% stake. This experience underscores the importance of adaptability and the challenges of navigating the evolving media landscape.

    • Mark's emotional trauma after saleDespite financial success, Mark's sale of Mark Echo led to profound personal trauma and a period of depression, emphasizing the importance of personal fulfillment in success.

      The sale of Mark Echo to Iconics in 2009, while financially successful, resulted in profound personal trauma for Mark. Despite the substantial payout and ongoing royalty, Mark felt a deep sense of loss as he transitioned from hands-on creator to passive investor. This emotional upheaval, coupled with the financial crisis and hostility from creditors, led to a breakdown and a period of depression. However, Mark found solace in his work with Complex Media, where he shifted his focus to video and digital content. This new venture allowed him to tap into his creative strengths and led to significant financial success. Ultimately, Mark's experience serves as a reminder that financial success does not always equate to personal fulfillment and that the creative process holds deep emotional significance for many individuals.

    • Building successful international brandsNavigating hyper-localization, recognizing opportunities, and putting in hard work are essential for building successful international brands. Talent, skill, and a relentless belief in oneself also play a crucial role.

      Building a successful international brand involves navigating the challenges of hyper-localization and balancing the importance of timing, luck, and hard work. Mark Echo, co-founder of Echo Unlimited and Complex Networks, shared his experiences of developing IP at an international level and the resulting multiple personality aspects of his brand. He acknowledged the role of luck, including being a twin, growing up in a diverse community, and being married to a supportive partner. However, he also emphasized the importance of talent, skill, and a relentless belief in oneself. Echo believes that God played a role in his success, and this is an important part of his journey. To celebrate Echo Unlimited's 30th anniversary, Echo returned to design a limited edition collection, which he saw as a love letter to 1993. Building a successful brand requires a combination of factors, including the ability to adapt to local markets, recognizing opportunities, and putting in the hard work.

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