Brett Conti wanted to give back to the community in New York and skateboard all over the world. He does both and much more through his brand, Fortune NY.
Do you live off of Fortune or do you still have a part time job?
I was working part time, but as of recently the brand has been keeping me so busy and was doing well financially, so I’m happy to say I am now full time Fortune.
Congrats. When did that happen?
As of this past summer, I have been able to support myself off of Fortune. It still blows my mind. I wake up everyday excited to live and work on the brand.
There was a time when you were pursuing skateboarding and hoping to get sponsored and live that life, correct?
Hah, that is correct. I was lucky enough to have companies throughout the years like Zoo York, DC, Bliss Wheels, Red Bull, and a few others hook me up. But yeah, as of recently I stopped asking my sponsors for free product and started buying stuff with my own money. Owning a company myself I understand how most people who know you just want product for free. I’d rather support companies now like Chapman Skateboards when I need a board.
When did you make the shift mentally from wanting to skate full time to being a brand owner?
Around the same time when I started doing Fortune full time, so sometime this past summer. I have been skateboarding everyday since I was about 8 years old, so 15 years now. It’s weird not focusing on trying to “make it” in skating anymore and shifting my priorities over to Fortune. To be completely honest, it’s made me appreciate skateboarding on such a higher level now and I’m able to just skateboard for fun. Filming a video part on par with today’s AMs is insane. People like Antonio Durao are just pushing the level of skateboarding so far it’s nearly impossible to keep up. I still plan to film video parts, but I just won’t be sending it out trying to acquire new sponsors anymore.
50/50, Photo: CornPhoto
Do you have a formal education?
Yeah, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College with a double major in Marketing and Finance. I always knew I wanted to start my own business and thought those two would be the most helpful. After I graduated, I took a few classes at F.I.T. for designing menswear. It helped out significantly. I highly recommend that school if you want to start a brand.
When and why did you start the brand?
In May of 2013 was when the first hats were made. I really wanted to give back to New York and the community so I donated 10% of all the profits to Toys for Tots the first year. Every year Fortune donates to give back and help the less fortunate; hence the name Fortune.
I always knew I wanted to work in the clothing industry since I was very young. My grandfather ran a textile company and he was so passionate about what he was doing so it made me gain interest in fabrics and prints. He still calls me once a day with different ideas for Fortune. He’s the best. Also, skateboarders are typically very creative individuals. I think most skateboarders dream about owning a brand one day and the aesthetics it would have. From even a non-biased perspective I think some of the best brands are created by skateboarders. Skateboarders are always setting the trends.
Where did you get the money to start the brand?
I was making a tiny bit of money from Red Bull and was interning making minimum wage for Morgan Stanley. So I had a bit saved up, but I honestly started the brand with just a couple hundred dollars. Then from that I would just keep reinvesting every dollar the company earned.
Are you the owner 100%?
Yup, 100%. When I realized I wanted to start Fortune I reached out to my friend Joeface to do it 50/50 with me. At the time he was the Brick Harbor Team manager and was just so busy, so that ended up falling through. He’s doing the same thing for Dickies now and I know he’s happy with his situation, there’s no hard feelings or anything.
What was the process of making and selling the product in the beginning?
In the beginning, I was sewing every single product in my dorm room. From beanies to 5 panels to pocket shirts, I was doing it myself out of my tiny room that I shared with two buddies. I started it the end of my junior year and then by the middle of my senior year it was starting to really pick up. I was able to get it into about a dozen stores and was storing the product in all my closets, under my bed and anywhere I could. Sorry again Greg and Matt for always packing out the room and having thread and fabric all over the place.
Back Nosegrind, Photo: Rixtagram
When you started to work with factories, how did get the contacts?
Even to this day, sourcing has always been tough. It’s a way for companies to have a competitive advantage amongst one another so brands typically keep that information classified. Chapman told me about Alibaba before they went public and anyone knew of them. At that time it was a lot easier to find good manufacturers on it, but now it’s a bit too saturated and you can get scammed pretty easily. My senior year of college I got scammed by a fake manufacturer for almost $1,000. This was a good portion of the money in the business account too. Now I make sure to video chat with the company and make sure they’re legitimate.
What is the process now? Are you designing everything?
I design a majority of the stuff, but now I also have my friends Dom Santhers and Mclane who I pay to help me out. They both understand the vision of the brand and are very talented graphic designers. For the cut and sew, I design it all myself. Most of the ideas come usually from just skating around the city (New York). Each piece is different though. For example, the hooded flannel I designed, I got the idea from watching 90s rap videos.
Who else is involved with the brand?
So right now my friend Frank Nicado has been helping out with social media, sales, and product placement. Also, we have our very first intern, Jordan Yesmineh who has become a part of the family very quickly. He’s an incredible writer and also a talented skateboarder as well. When I was looking for an intern he was the first person I thought of and glad he was equally as ecstatic to work for Fortune.
Do you have a skate team?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it a whole team, but we do hook up a ton of skaters mostly in NYC, but also around the world. We have Cristian Delgado out in Barcelona who can do NBDs and make them actually look good. Check out his instagram to see for yourself, @cristiandeelgarap. Also, some others to mention are Chris Pierre-Jacques who has been blowing up lately, Kempsey Alexandre who is one of my favorite people on and off the board, Nolan Zangas, Dan Carriero, Eric Martinac, and a bunch of others.
Blunt, Photo: Rixtagram
Where do you want to take the brand? What are your goals?
My goal is to really help build the skateboard industry and brands from New York. I not only want to be the brand that skateboarders are trying to get hooked up by, but the brand that college students want to intern for and essentially work full time for. It’s crazy how when we were looking for an intern how many emails I still get asking how kids can apply.
How do you market and promote the brand?
Of course social media is crucial. It’s a way for small brands with no budget to really give the audience and customers what they want. We are working on a ten-minute promo that should be up during spring. Also, I’ll occasionally get emails from stylists asking for clothes for the celebrity they represent. Coincidently, yesterday I received an email form a record label saying a rapper they rep is a fan of Fortune and wanted some product for Grammy week.
You’ve been traveling a ton internationally. Is it for the brand?
It’s funny you mention that. I’ve never really told anyone this besides my friend Bobby who told me to do it. But when I first started the brand I wrote down on a piece of paper what I wanted to get out of the brand and my goals with it. I wrote down how I want to be able to travel the world and promote Fortune. This last trip I was in Europe for about a month. For the first week I visited my family in Italy, then bought an unlimited train pass and bounced around the continent by myself. I was just skating and visiting shops. It was such a unique and incredible experience. Surprisingly, the first stop I visited in Milan, Fibol Shop actually already made an order through our distributor, Delights Dist. out of Spain. So when I went in there, the owner Matteo, already was down with the brand, it was an awesome feeling. Matteo actually let me stay with him for over a week in Milan and was an amazing host. Thanks again, Matteo!
With so many people starting their own brands now, what do brands need to do to differentiate themselves?
Yeah, it’s crazy how many people are starting brands these days. It’s like everyone with an Instagram is trying to sell you something. The best advice that comes to mind is have a direction and stick to that. If you’re all over the place people won’t become loyal to your brand and will just be confused what your brand is.
Gap Nosegrind, Photo: Liorente
How important are relationships in building a brand?
Huge. The reason I have been able to get this far is because of knowing the right people. When I was still running shop out of my dorm room I was able to get into about a dozen stores because of the relationships I had with stores through skateboarding. Relationships are a major key.
Would you say you’re living your dream right now?
Hm, I guess so, to a certain extent. I have always dreamt of having my own brand and working for myself, so I guess so in that case. I’m definitely not where I want to be personally and with Fortune though. I’d love to have a flagship store in lower Manhattan in the near future. I plan to do a pop up shop this summer. So depending on that, a permanent store may be coming sooner than later.
What has been a major obstacle you’ve had to overcome in running the brand?
Cash flow. Dealing with the bigger accounts we deal with, their terms are typically Net 60. Which means they pay you 60 days after receiving the product. So the better business is doing and the bigger the orders are getting means the more I have to front and wait 60 days to get paid. So with that and trying to pay the other expenses and paying myself to live it gets difficult. My degree in Finance helps out and I’m always able to figure it out.
Do you think people understand how much work it takes to run a brand when they want to start one? How much time and energy are you putting into Fortune?
I really don’t. It may be a dream job to run your own skate/clothing brand, but I don’t think people understand how much effort goes into it. Don’t get me wrong; I would not rather be doing anything other than what I’m doing now. But I had no clue until I started a brand myself how much work it takes. My friends think I fuck around all day and the company just runs itself. There’s so much stress and so much to stay on top of to keep a float.
What would you tell someone who wants to start their own brand?
The best brands start off small and develop over time. You don’t need to come out swinging. Start off with a small run of just one or two SKUs. Hook up your homies and let it grow organically.
Can you give a very basic checklist that people can follow to get their own brand going if they want?
- Think of the purpose and message you want your brand to represent.
- From that, then come up with a name and logo that represent it. Coming up with a name and logo are critical.
- Open up a business account and register as an LLC to protect yourself.
- Get stickers made so people can start hearing about the name.
- If you’re starting with less than $1,000 like I did, learn to sew and make your first couple products yourself.
- Get a website. I started off with Big Cartel, which is free if you have under a certain amount of products. If you have more capital, SquareSpace and Shopify work wonders and you can get a dope site for $30 a month.
- Go to your local screen printer and get some tee shirts made.
- Once you have a little collection, start contacting your local shops and give them reasons why they should carry it and why you think it will sell.
- Don’t be greedy in the beginning. Reinvest all the money you’re making for at least a year or two. Give out a lot of promo and sponsor all the local events you can.
- Once you’re in stores in your local area you can start contacting distributors overseas. Especially if you’re an American based brand, European and Japanese stores are always looking for the next big brand from the US.
- Never forget your core values and why you started the brand. If you’re trying to get rich quick, this isn’t the industry for you. You really need to have passion for what you’re doing and people will see that in your brand.
- Have fun.