Carl Jones: This all started with a conversation that TJ and I had while working together for a surf brand that I owned called “Surf Fetish”. We wanted something for the culture and for people that were into Hip Hop. Cross Culture- that’s how the naming of the brand started. TJ did all the artwork, the logos, we started to register the name.
TJ Walker: Yes, but then the attorney calls us and tells us that we can’t use the name. There was a newspaper using that name, so to be safe we should change ours altogether. We played around with names and inevitably incorporated the word “colour” into the mix.
Carl Jones: We opted for the European spelling of the word to differentiate ourselves from a movie that was out at the time called “Colors”, which depicted inner city gang life. So TJ and I, along with our marketing director, made the decision to go with “Colours” instead to differentiate ourselves.
TJ Walker: Yes, and this isn’t to say that we didn’t want those men and women who were a part of gang culture to not feel represented by the brand. What we wanted was for the name of the brand to stand out and embody unity.
Carl Jones: We took a trip to New York because that’s where the culture was. LA didn’t really have Hip Hop music - there was some in LA, but it was really coming from NY.
TJ Walker: We just rode the Subway. We sat there and rode from Harlem to Brooklyn just watching the kids and what they wore. They were wearing these huge baggy pants that they belted - the pants were 38 and the kid was probably a size 30. We looked at them and thought it was interesting.
Carl Jones: TJ, being the artist that he is, put pen to paper and recreated the look. We said we were going to make those pants with a size 38 body, but with a size 32 waist. That’s what started it! So from the oversized pants, of course you need the oversized jacket. Now you need the oversized shirt to go with the oversized jacket. Suddenly, everything was oversized.
Carl Jones: We only had three months to prepare. We both knew that this trade show was going to make us or break us, so were heads down for three months! We were creating products, we were managing the marketing, overseeing sales- everything!
TJ Walker: But doing that allowed us to insert ourselves into the entertainment industry and get our clothing on the dancers, the actors and actresses, the music artists. That validated us without any buy-in from the buyers who, at the time, thought that our products were too afrocentric.
Carl Jones: So by the time we get to the trade show I’d spent $300,000 of my own money to get to the trade show. It was really scary! We didn’t have a great booth location, but the booth itself was phenomenal. We brought the whole street to the show! I’ll never forget, the booth was this corrugated metal, graffiti, we had it on castors. It was expensive, but it was so well done.
TJ Walker: Out of that show of thousands of booths, we were the only African American company there in the show, and the only brand to bring streetwear to the show.
Carl Jones: All of sudden, all of these buyers show up. And initially we didn’t have a lot of appointments. Our marketing director tells us to take a look outside of the booth - all of a sudden there’s about 80 people standing in line. I mean there were crowds surrounding the booth! It was nonstop! By the end we had close to $20 million dollars in orders.
Carl Jones: I think the most important move we made was deciding to reach out to the Fresh Prince.
TJ Walker: I agree! We had our former marketing director reach out to the wardrobe people at the Fresh Prince, take over some of the garments, and see what would happen. Thank God for Will! Will loved everything!
Carl Jones: Three days later I’m sitting at home watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and voilà! There’s Will wearing our product! And that just created a snowball effect. Record companies started sending all of their artists to us.
TJ Walker: We started to give away a ton of products. It’s exactly what Influencer Marketing has become today. We treated our products like currency and factored it into our advertising costs.
Carl Jones: Shutting down the operation of the brand was one of the hardest things that TJ and I have had to do. We’re talking about a business that garnered upwards of $100 million in annual sales, and now it’s just over.
TJ Walker: Our biggest retail partner at the time, Merry-Go-Round, announced that they would be filing for bankruptcy. And with that bankruptcy went millions of dollars in products that we could neither receive payment for nor get back to sell on our own or through another retailer.
Carl Jones: It was jarring to think that after making such an impact not only in the fashion industry and in business, but also in communities across the country, that the business was over.
TJ Walker: Right! So we both ventured off to do our own independent projects. Carl went on to own another clothing brand, and I went on to teach. But we reunited in 2014 after getting the word that consumers were asking for our products again. That was when we realized we needed to find a way to bring the brand back.
Carl Jones: We recognized the fact that there was a whole new generation of fans who were toddlers when we first dropped, but they somehow connected to our brand and its message. So Cross Colours is back!
TJ Walker: Indeed! And as Drake would say, what a time to be alive!