“If I focused on that, no one would buy the clothes,” he said. “People rely so much less these days on the logo. They want quality product, which is what I want Rocawear to be known for — we make a damn good pair of jeans.…That’s why people buy them.”
To grow Rocawear, which has been Carter’s mission since taking his active role at the company, he knew he had to do something drastic. He said he sees a great deal of growth opportunity, primarily in women’s (men’s accounts for about 75 percent of the business), but he needed the infrastructure to do what he wanted to.
So, in April 2007, he agreed to partner with Iconix Brand Group, which acquired the Rocawear brand for $204 million in cash. In the deal, Neil Cole, Iconix’s ceo, became Carter’s partner and in turn, Carter was going to help Cole with future Iconix deals.
“I got to know Neil, and we now have the same mission: Our goal is to make Rocawear a $1 billion company,” he said. “It may take us more time than we would like since the economy is in the shape that it’s in, but I’m confident that we will get there.”
Also in the plans, Carter said he’s scouting for new brands to acquire and operate under the Rocawear umbrella. The company is set up in such a way that they have the resources to run other brands, he said.
“I have my eye on a lot of brands,” he said. “I feel that we can really add our expertise in apparel to another brand at this point. We are ready for that.”
His biggest challenge, he said, has been the ability to grow the women’s side of the business — but that’s a challenge he’s attacking head-on.
“It’s been tough with the growth of fast-fashion retailers out there like H&M and Forever 21,” he said. “It’s made things really difficult for the women’s side of the business. That, paired with the closings of so many specialty stores in this economy, we are still trying to figure out what to do. It’s hurt us a lot.”
But, Carter said, he is determined to rise above the challenges. With the music business, he said, executives were blindsided by technology and didn’t know what to do when downloads became more popular than CD stores. He doesn’t want to see the apparel industry — especially Rocawear — get blindsided by competition from fast-fashion retailers.
“It’s difficult to make jeans digital, so I’m not so worried about technology getting ahead of us,” he quipped. “But there are certainly a number of challenges we have to meet as a fashion brand.”
Every day at Rocawear, Carter said, is a learning experience for him. He admits he’s made some mistakes, but refuses to dwell on them. Rather, he strives to learn from them so they don’t happen again.
One of his biggest mistakes? “We really should have done some Rihanna Rocawear umbrellas when that song became a hit. We could have made a load of money on those. I’m still kicking myself.”