Sean John Clothing, Inc. History

Address:
525 7th Avenue, Suite 1009
New York, New York 10018
U.S.A.

Telephone: (212) 869-6422
Fax: (212) 869-4133

Website:
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group
Incorporated: 1998
Employees: 75
Sales: $450 million (2004)
NAIC: 424320 Men's and Boys' Clothing and Furnishings Merchant Wholesalers; 424330 Women's, Children's, and Infants' Clothing and Accessories Merchant Wholesalers; 448110 Men's Clothing Stores; 448120 Women's Clothing Stores

Company Perspectives:

We would ultimately like to have Sean John viewed as the Future of Fashion.

Key Dates:

1998:
Sean John Clothing is formed.
1999:
The first line of apparel bearing the Sean John label is introduced.
2001:
The runway show for the Sean John Clothing line is broadcast live on television.
2004:
The company opens its first retail store in New York City.

Company History:

Owned by Sean "P. Diddy" Combs's Bad Boy Entertainment Group, Sean John Clothing, Inc. is a designer and marketer of men's, boy's, and women's apparel. Sean Jean Clothing caters to customers aged between 12 and 45, selling its apparel through retailers such as Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Belk's, Carson Pirie Scott, Bernini, and Fred Segal. The company also operates its own store in New York City, the first of what is expected to be a chain of company-owned retail outlets.

Origins

Sean John Combs's eponymous apparel company represented one facet of a business empire that ranked the hip-hop mogul as the wealthiest entertainer under 40 in the United States. Combs's rise in the business world was exceptionally quick and boundless in scope, beginning with an internship that, a decade later, evolved into annual salary of more than $300 million. Sean John Clothing represented a sizeable portion of that fortune. The company was an expression of the personality and vision of its founder, and, as such, the history of Sean John Clothing was one part of the story of Sean John Combs's remarkable rise in the business world.

Combs was born in Harlem in 1969, the son of Melvin and Janice Combs. Melvin Combs was killed when Sean was two years old, the victim of a homicide, which prompted Janice Combs to take Sean and his sister Keisha to a safer environment. Janice Combs moved the family to Mt. Vernon, New York, where she worked three jobs to support her two children. Sean Combs attended Mount Vernon Montessori School and Mount Saint Michael Academy, where he earned a nickname that millions of music fans would come to know a decade later. When he was playing football, Combs had a tendency to expand his chest in an effort to intimidate others, a habit that led his teammates to call him "Puffy."

After leaving Mount Saint Michael, Combs enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He began pursuing a business degree, but an internship at Uptown Records in New York City diverted his attention away from his studies, prompting him to leave Howard University after two years. Combs now focused entirely on making a name for himself at Uptown Records, and in the process he quickly becoming a driving force in the city's hip-hop scene. One year, after starting as an intern at the company, Combs served as Uptown Records' director of A&R (Artists and Repertoire), a position that made him responsible for scouting, signing, and promoting music talent. At 21 years old, he was charged with ensuring that the debut albums of artists Jodeci and Mary J. Blige were hits. Combs succeeded, lending his vision of urban youth to help create a new niche within the hip-hop genre, making Jodeci and Mary J. Blige the new stars of hip-hop soul.

Combs left Uptown Records in 1993, ready to start his own business in the music industry. He signed an exclusive agreement with Clive Davis of Arista Records to distribute the recordings of artists signed to his newly formed record label, Bad Boy Entertainment, a business that began in Combs's home. Starting out, Combs had two artists, Craig Mack and his friend and frequent collaborator Christopher Wallace. Craig Mack's album was the first recording released by Bad Boy Entertainment and sold more than one million copies. However, the breakthrough moment for Combs's record label arrived with the introduction of Wallace's monikers to the record-buying public. Ready to Die marked the debut release by "Notorious B.I.G.," one of the names ("Biggie Smalls" was the other) used by Wallace. This release sold well over one million copies, earning the "multi-platinum" distinction used by the recording industry.

The success of Ready to Die confirmed Combs's reputation as a skillful producer, arranger, and manager in the recording industry. Soon after, he was inundated with requests from other artists to lend his touch to their work. Mariah Carey turned to Combs for production help, as did TLC, Lil Kim, and Usher, fanning the legitimacy and expansion of Bad Boy Entertainment. Combs's growing reputation and power gave his company the leverage to negotiate a 1996 joint venture with Arista Records that resulted in a rarely heard of 50-50 split between the two labels. Continuing to rise in professional stature, Combs signed, developed, and produced albums for a string of artists such as Faith Evans, the female trio Total, and the male vocal group 112, all of which earned the platinum designation. Combs then began a recording career himself, releasing his first single, Cant Nobody Hold Me Down, in January 1997 under the name "Puff Daddy." His next venture involved forming an apparel company that operated under the corporate umbrella of Bad Boy Entertainment Group, the corporate entity that governed all of Combs's business ventures.

Combs's ambition found a new release with the creation of Sean John Clothing in 1998. A significant component of his electric rise in the music industry involved nuances of style and image making, and this naturally led to Combs's interest in fashion. Combs formed Sean John Clothing to bring his vision of urban streetwear to the mainstream men's clothing market, hiring an executive from Ralph Lauren, Jeffrey Tweedy, to help him create what Newsweek, in its February 12, 2001 issue, referred to as a "hip-hop-meets-Liberace" apparel label. "Understand," Combs wrote on the Sean Jean Web site, "that we are not in the clothing business for a quick hit, but we are truly committed to the expansion and growth of the men's marketplace and will use all of our resources to ensure quality in both design and production of Sean Jean always exceeds your expectations. I didn't want to over use my celebrity," he added. "I just call it Sean Jean, which is my fashion alter ego and real name."

Debut in 1999

The Sean John men's sportswear line debuted in the spring of 1999. The company's first shipment of apparel was sold in department and specialty stores across the nation, appearing in retail shops controlled by Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Belk's, Carson Pirie Scott, Bernini, and Fred Segal. The line was an enormous, immediate success, attracting a wealth of customers and earning admiration from the fashion world. In 2000, Combs was nominated for a Council of Fashion Designers of America Award as menswear designer of the year. The nomination, which was uncommon for a designer after only a year in business, represented the equivalent of an Academy Award nomination, putting Combs within the exclusive circle of elite designers such as Anna Sui, Todd Oldham, and Marc Jacobs. Combs failed to win the coveted award, losing to Marc Jacobs, but the nomination by itself confirmed Sean John Clothing as an apparel label of merit.

Combs earned another nomination for a Council of Fashion Designers of America Award in 2001, a year that included several momentous events for both the man and the company. Combs spent much of early 2001 sitting a court room, standing trial for charges of gun possession and bribery. The charges, stemming from an incident at Club New York in December 1999, led to a six-week trial that found Combs not guilty of all five counts brought against him. (Shortly thereafter, Combs held a press conference announcing he was changing his nickname from "Puff Daddy" to "P. Diddy"). The trial did nothing to tarnish Combs's image among the high-fashion elite or among the legions of customers who flocked to stores to buy his clothing. Sales shot past $100 million, quickly becoming the financial driving force within Bad Boy Entertainment Group. Kal Ruttenstein, the influential fashion director at Bloomingdale's, expressed nothing but praise for Sean John's line. "It's not just kids who are buying it," Ruttenstein explained in a February 12, 2001 interview with Newsweek. "It's their dads in the suburbs who don't know Puffy that are buying because of the quality too. I wear Sean John like crazy, and I'm no spring chicken."

Sean John Clothing succeeded by winning over two distinct realms of the apparel industry. The company's runway shows were extravagant affairs attended by celebrities and the arbiters of what was high-fashion and what was not. Combs's skills as a producer, promoter, and showman gave his company a decided edge in this area. In 2001, for instance, Sean John Clothing made fashion history when it became the first designer to have its runway show broadcast live on television, a two-hour event simulcast by the E! Style networks. On display at the company's runway events were showcase apparel items, pieces of clothing such as a $5,000 pair of rhinestone-studded jeans that were well beyond the apparel budgets of ordinary consumers. Sean John Clothing did not make its revenue by selling rhinestone-studded jeans or opulent furs, instead, the company's commercial success came from attracting ordinary consumers. The sale of the company's simple casual separates, leather jackets, and suit blazers provided the majority of its sales. Combs made his reputation on the runway, earning nominations for Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards for three consecutive years, but his company made its living on the streets.

Sean John Clothing's unmitigated success as a designer of menswear provided the encouragement to develop a line of apparel for boys and women. Sales increased robustly, approaching $400 million by 2003, when the Sean John brand was sold in more than 2,000 retail locations throughout the country. Combs's achievements in the music industry during the 1990s, many observers noted, had helped popularize East Coast-style hip-hop, cultivating a mass-market audience for the genre. His success with Sean John Clothing produced a similar effect, bringing urban streetwear to the suburban market, although Combs, in a May 21, 2003 interview with South Florida Sun-Sentinel, stressed, "I think the mainstream is coming to what we are doing at Sean John rather than the other way around."

Sean John Clothing Moves into Retail in 2004

In 2003, Combs directed Sean John Clothing's progression to the next step in the apparel business. He began working on plans for the company's own retail store, a flagship unit located on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Construction of the store was underway before the end of 2003, leading to its grand opening in June 2004. The Manhattan location was expected to be the first of a chain of Sean John Clothing stores, as Combs revealed plans to open ten stores in selected markets throughout the country by the end of 2005. At roughly the same time the flagship store opened, Combs entered into a joint venture agreement with a young designer named Zac Posen, making an undisclosed investment in Posen's three-year-old company, Outspoke LLC. "I see Zac as someone who shares the same drive and vision that I have," Combs said in an April 21, 2004 interview with WWD. "I also saw an opportunity for Sean John to make an impact with Zac Posen by giving him the tools and resources that he needed for his business to grow and mature."

As Sean John Clothing prepared to launch its assault on the retail front, the company's prospects were bright. During its first five years in business, the apparel designer demonstrated a consistent ability to succeed both on the runway and at the cash register. Although mistakes, particularly in the capricious world of fashion, were inevitable, the company possessed the financial strength of its founder and chief executive officer to support its future development as a retailer and designer. In 2004, Fortune magazine named Combs the wealthiest U.S. entertainer under the age of 40, estimating his income for the year at $315 million. Sean John Clothing represented a substantial percentage of that income, making its success critical to the success of Combs.

Principal Subsidiaries: Sean John Marketing.

Principal Competitors: Karl Kani Infinity Inc.; Phay Fashions LLC; Rocawear, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Bustard, Dan, "P. Diddy Clothing Makers Visit Vermont for Protest with Congressman," Eagle Times, November 13, 2003, p. A3.
  • "Combs Says He Will Look into Sweatshop Accusation," St. Petersburg Times, October 29, 2003, p. 2B.
  • Davis, Alisha, "Puffy's fur Is Flying," Newsweek, February 12, 2001, p. 32.
  • Doyle, Tim, "Diddy Bo. 1 on Rich List," Mirror, September 10, 2004, p. 17.
  • English, Simon, "P. Diddy Wraps Ups Clothes Divestment," Daily Telegraph, September 17, 2003, p. C3.
  • "Ex-Employee Raps Work Conditions," Houston Chronicle, October 29, 2003, p. 3.
  • Hagwood, Rod Stafford, "Sean John Clothing Line Making Some Noise," South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 21, 2003, p. B2.
  • Malone, Scott, "Kernaghan, Worker Detail Diddy Claims," WWD, October 29, 2003, p. 12.
  • Morris, Valerie, "P. Diddy's Sean John Clothing Empire Forms Joint Venture with Designer Zac Posen," America's Intelligence Wire, April 22, 2004, p. 13.
  • Porter, Charlie, "Hip Shop Baby Phat," Guardian, September 15, 2003, p. 11.
  • Raftery, Brian M., "Hit and Runway," Entertainment Weekly, February 23, 2001, p. 12.
  • "Sean John Seeks New Shop Sites," New York Post, April 29, 2004, p. 40.
  • Wilson, Eric, "Combs Hopes to Score Hit with Posen," WWD, April 21, 2004, p. 3.
  • Wynn, Kelli, "Fired Hondurans Describe Sweatshop," Dayton Daily News, November 4, 2003, p. B3.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 70. St. James Press, 2005.