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I Am American Business

Marc Ecko

Producer Notes

The Marc Ecko offices are located in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, and it seems fitting that his building (built in 1878) was originally the home of one of New York’s first department stores, Stern Bros. Where now the Zoo York Skateboard Team and Ecko sales staff come to work, there used to be doormen in top hats, welcoming Victorian shoppers. Marc’s love of art is obvious everywhere, with the display of wildly imaginative art creations, sculptures of rhinos, and in the beautiful design of every showroom. While there’s an entire gigantic floor of sweat shirted graphic designers drawing all sorts of creations for his many clothing lines, there’s also a studio set-up Marc calls his Art Factory where artists create art for no commercial purpose whatsoever, simply to make art. Marc is living proof that you can be a marketing and business whiz and still be a true artist.

Video Interview

The "I Am" Q&A


What kind of car do you drive?
I don’t drive a car. I have the luxury of having a driver, and a commute every day from New Jersey into Manhattan, it’s about an hour and ten minutes door to door. And I drive in a customed-out Escalade where I took all the badges off the car. And I’ve got my satellite TV and HD-DVD, and my X-Box 360, and a desktop, and internet access, and I get work done. And if not, I could always push the seat back and take a nap. So that’s what I'm in most of the time.

What’s your favorite place to go?
My favorite place to go is anywhere with my family.

What web site do you like to visit?
Complex.com.

What was your worst moment in business?
My worst moment of business was those days when I was six million dollars plus in debt, and you come into the office, and you knew you’d have to take the voice mail and listen to all those angry calls of all those wolves hounding you for money that you owe people. Those were scary times.

What’s your favorite drink?
My favorite drink is really, really old whiskey.

What’s your favorite food?
My favorite food, answering what my favorite food is like answering who your favorite super hero is. It’s not possible.

What’s your idea of fun?
My idea of fun is, is everything you do when you wake up in the morning and just taking in life. If you can't have fun all the time, what the hell, what the hell are you doing? What are we here for? Everything’s got to be fun. You got to manage your expectations, or change your expectations, because if it’s not fun, you're wasting your time.

What personal weaknesses do you forgive in someone?
I will forgive people for being overly emotional. Yeah, being overly emotional and not being able to restrain themselves creates disruptions in business and life and relationships, and when you're sober about your emotions and you don't let it get in your way you can have better communication, better relationships. But we’re all guilty of it, it’s our nature, it’s how we’re wired and programmed. So I’ll, I’ll forgive that.

What movie star do you like?
Daniel Day Lewis, the greatest actor on the entire planet Earth and beyond.

Who’s a business hero of yours?
A business hero of mine would be George Lucas, what he was able to take with, and do with that Star Wars brand, and create this three hundred and sixty degree lifestyle brand really changed the rules of movie licensing and merchandising. Ad he gave me a lot of vinyl toys to collect, and aspire to collect over my lifetime, so I owe a lot to George Lucas.

What personal qualities do you admire in business?
What I admire are self-starters, people that can navigate without a handbook, or a guidebook, or a GPS system. People that feel comfortable outside of having full visibility of what’s in and out of bounds. An entrepreneurial spirit. Folks that have a desire to want to excel on ideas and not on assets and money. People that are up for the challenge of doing more with less.

Are you doing anything green, anything for the environment?
I’d like to think I'm doing things for the environment, specifically schools. I'm a big advocate of education reform. The environment that I operate in is an environment where we could do better than graduate only seven percent of our American high school students. That’s my emphasis. So, to answer you, that was being a little bit snarky, but I can't boast about doing something very green, per se. A big emphasis for me, and the big need, our big crisis, where I see the polar caps melting, are in our, in our school systems here in this country.

What was your greatest moment in business?
I don’t have a greatest moment in business. I don't measure success on the nostalgia of those kind of highlight clips. It’s not about the highlight clips or what you perceive as the greatest moments. Because the minute you think you had one is the minute you might get a little bit loose in the cage, and not aspire to create the next one.

What is your dream?
I think the most important thing that you need to not go a little nutty is to be passionate about what you're doing. And without passion the soil will just never be fertile enough for the next big dream.

Do you have a motto?
My motto is, it’s not that deep. Sometimes I end it with, it’s not that deep, homey. Or I’ll say, it’s not that deep, money. Or I’ll just say, it’s not that deep. Because it’s never that deep. Can't be that bad.

What is your present state of mind?
Excited. Excited, nervous, eager, horny, angry, I don't know. Composite of all those things.

Transcript


CNBC:
What was it like building a business from the ground up?

MARC ECKO:
I think it’s taught me the values of doing more with less, and the survival instincts of the early part of my career has conditioned me to have teeth. This idea of defining my lane, based on my back story of just needing to survive and turn the business around. I’ve always been rewarded competing on ideas and not on dollars. Trying to compete with dollars is not where I win. I compete from that position of need and innovation. And innovation doesn't have to be a thing that you plug in that charges into the wall, but an idea and the capacity to really drive people to make them feel something that you can touch and emote from. I guess it reminds me of when I was young and being in an audience at a concert, or the first time I saw a hero of pop culture. That sense of magic. And that resonates with me. And I always try to ask myself when creating, designing, or building, either a business or a consumer product, what’s going to make the consumer feel?

CNBC:
What creates a feeling for the consumer?

MARC ECKO:
Well, a lot of the cues I use to make consumers feel things are the illustration and art. I don’t consider myself a designer in the Mr. Armani, Mr. Klein sense of the word. I consider myself more of a curator, an artist, an illustrator. It’s something I’ve excelled at since I was a young kid. So, I'm able to take fashion products and consumer products and, and adorn them with art. And those become cues and signals and signifiers for moods. And certainly in the case of everything in this showroom, that's the way the art behaves on the product. Kind of puts you in a mood.

CNBC:
You’ve got guys wearing flowers. You’ve got guys wearing lace…

MARC ECKO:
Well, that’s just the mood we’re in now. Some of the things you see now are a reflection of how we were collectively feeling months ago. It’s our job to feel something, get our heads around the mood that we want to get the consumer into, then move on to the next thing. We are in the kind of call and response business between consumers, creating this dialogue, and setting up an atmosphere for them. So some of what you see here, the kind of ornate graphics, or the things that have a sense of antiquity or history are kind of what you're surrounded with now. It’s very detailed and graphic and moody. I look at this stuff, and I'm already on to the next thing. And I think that’s our job is not to be comfortable with what we’re designing, never to be comfortable with, or contented by what you're doing. Just when you think you're in the pocket, or the sweet spot, that’s when you have to reflect on it, look in the mirror, get introspective, and say, how do I push myself to the next thing? So, it’s conceivable that where I’ll be aesthetically a year from now, six months from now, might be very flat and graphic and all about non-serif typefaces, and bold, and, and kind of optical. Who knows? That’s the exciting part about art and design. It’s very liberating. There’s no real boundaries in terms of aesthetic boundaries.

CNBC:
Let’s talk about not being too comfortable.

MARC ECKO:
I believe for me, and it has a lot to do with my back story, of how I built the business, the only comfort zone that you're entitled to is the sanctity of your pillow and your bed during the hours in which you sleep. Those are the only times that you're entitled to be comfortable. If you are operating from a comfort zone during your business hours, you are in the wrong business. I believe that wholeheartedly. Business doesn't come with a, and certainly working at this organization, doesn't come with a handbook, a how-to, it’s not for, it’s not for, people that want to make safe decisions or comfortable decisions. When you are out of your comfort zone, you're challenge, challenging yourself to really reflect on, on the consumer culture that we’re dealing with today. It’s fluid, it’s, it’s completely atomized. And just when you think your instincts are going to serve you right and tell you what the cust-, the customer wants, the customer tells you the contrary. So, you constantly have to be compelled to seek outward, look outward, look outside of your comfort zone, look outside of your age, look outside of your, your, the lens of, of nostalgia, and reflect on things as they are, not as how they were.

CNBC:
How did you get started?

MARC ECKO:
As a young person I excelled at art, and I remember as early as third or fourth grade my grandmother kind of making a big deal out of any time I drew or got into art. My dad was a collector of comic books, and comic books for me were a gateway into geeking out around illustration or art. There was this great narrative built into them. It was a place to kind of immerse myself, and it was certainly a place that every time I would sit there and trace over a comic book, or draw, draw a cartoon character, or caricature on a napkin, my family validated me by saying, wow, you do that well. Hanging it on the walls, making a big deal about it. So it gave me a great sense of self-worth. Growing up in the eighties during the emergence of hip hop culture…before it was served to you on a silver platter, when you had to go out and seek it, it didn't find you. I remember connecting to graffiti. Look, I was too fat to breakdance, I certainly wasn’t going to rap, and fitting in amongst my peer group, and being able to identify with being artistic, I was able to kind of navigate my social circles with this dialect, this visual dialect of graffiti. So growing up in the eighties, painting, airbrushing out of my parents’ garage was where I learned about business and entrepreneurship. I learned that hustle and that swagger of doing something and making something from nothing. A dollar and a dream. And it certainly it helped give me a great sense of self-worth. When my grandmother made the big deal about my art, as a kid, at that point in my life, my peers were making a big deal out of it. It defined me in social circles. It gave me a narrative. It gave me purpose and meaning.

CNBC:
Somehow you were an artist who had a strong business drive. Where did that come from?

MARC ECKO:
I think the business drive comes from the fact that there was this cynicism that what I was working on, this emerging hip hop thing, had no value. Despite my peers and friends in social circles validating what I was doing, the establishment wasn’t. So, I kind of felt as an underdog, oh, I’ll show them. I’ll take this thing that they say has zero value, and I’ll assign value to it. I’ll show them. And I think that drove the need to take it to the next level, constantly elevating the playing field, defining on my terms what it is that should have value or not value.

CNBC:
So how did you start the business?

MARC ECKO:
It was very naïve. It was just literally, open up the garage door. I had an easel, a Sears air compressor, an airbrush, and friends and word of mouth. And I remember my first business card, my Ecko Airbrushing business card in 1985. Just one T-shirt at a time, custom making them. I graduated high school in 1990, I applied to Rutgers College of Pharmacy. So, all my academic advisors were saying, this is cute, this is nice, you excel at art, yes, but do you really think you're going to feed the mouths of babes by painting T-shirts? So I decided I did decent with the math and science. My dad graduated Rutgers College of Pharmacy, I was the only surviving male in the family, it was all females, I had female sisters, female cousins, so maybe I’d be doing the right thing by the legacy of my father, since he graduated there. I applied to Rutgers College of Pharmacy, and when I got there it just wasn’t making me happy. I wasn’t passionate about it. I was very average in the context of the four hundred kids that were to be in my graduating class. So I continued with this path of using art to vet out what it was that made me happy and passionate. And it also was a great means of income. 1993 I decide, instead of painting these T-shirts one piece at a time, all the heavy lifting of these ornate airbrushed denim jackets, I could maybe mass produce these things, screen print them. And that's when I kind of leap-frogged into the notion of mass production. I went on taking six airbrushed illustrations that I painted in my garage, and instead of doing one at a time, I screen printed them out in Brooklyn, New York, and printed my first six T-shirts.

CNBC:
You got into serious debt when you first launched the company.

MARC ECKO:
I don’t regret the debt position I got into. Six million dollars of debt in those first five, six years. Reflecting on it now, it was the greatest Ivy League education, the greatest elemental, practical education that any businessman could have. I had the parachute of youth. I had the naivete, the doe-eyed perspective of youth, and that insulated me from, I think, the pain that I would feel today if I was put in that same position. And being that low on the ground, six million dollars in debt, and this was real debt, this is the worst kind of debt, debt that you gather from asking your own staff, your own employees to extend themselves on their credit cards, asking your manufacturing base, your supply chain - I’ll gladly pay you Thursday for a hamburger today. That’s how we got into that position. And reflecting on it now, the lessons that I was able to distill from that, kind of Socratic-ly distilling, an army of Yodas from all of these people that I would meet in the industry, it taught me everything I know today, and it built me and shaped me and I think gave me the thick skin to face the ups and downs of the nature of the fashion business.

CNBC:
So if somebody had wanted to buy at that point would you have sold it?

MARC ECKO:
Oh, for sure. I mean, one of the best ways that I learned how to turn the business around was seeking out potential buyers for my brand. But six million dollars in debt, sixteen million dollars in gross sales, you're, you're functionally bankrupt, so who the hell was going to buy us? That said, every opportunity we got to sit in front of a captain of industry, another brand, that was maybe seeking to buy us, we would take advantage of those opportunities, and we would learn about ourselves. I’d meet someone with a business card, and on the business card it said, chief of information management systems. General merchandising manager. The head of merchandising. All these different titles that were skill sets, and divisions of labor within the fashion industry. And when I’d meet these folks I would say, well, I guess I need a general merchandising manager. I need a head of planning. I need a VP of merchandising. I guess I need a core competency. They ask me, what’s your core competency. And well, if it’s important enough for that guy to ask me what my core competency is, it must be important enough for me to have to have one. So, all of the exercise of selling your company actually helps you learn a lot about yourself. I tell people, it’s kind of like standing on a mirror naked reflecting on all the good bits and the bad bits. The bits that are there but you ignore because you don’t really have to pay attention to them once you're dressed. But it’s important getting perspective on yourself, soberly, on your business. And the due diligence process of selling your company really helps give you great insight that no consultant can give you, and no other experience but the exercise of going through that can teach you.

CNBC:
How did you survive it?

MARC ECKO:
It wasn’t easy. It was like being in special ops in the military or something. It was amazingly intense, and physical, and emotional, and there’s no question that the parachute of youth, and I think the, the kind of naïve hopefulness of believing in yourself, by any means necessary, and that had value that no bank could take away from you, that no cynical buyer could take away from you, that no bad shipping season could take away from you. I always had that feeling we could achieve, and if we just stick to it… I know it sounds cliché, but that’s a critical element to have to have. And, in retrospect I obviously had a great tolerance for pain, something that, I think, again, the shelter of being young certainly offered.

CNBC:
What are your current sales figures?

MARC ECKO:
The annual retail sales of my business is upwards of one point five billion dollars.

CNBC:
Can you talk a little about some of the major media stunts you’ve orchestrated recently?

MARC ECKO:
Well, I don’t like to think of what I do as stunts. I think the connotations on that word are quite negative. Sensational, sensationalism, OK. If defining sensational is the capacity to create a sense, something that you could feel, you could touch, it goes back to, it’s not what you make, it’s how you make people feel that’s really critical. And in a media culture that’s so atomized, and everyone is trying to capture the attention of the consumer, all the traditional means of speaking to consumers, outside print advertising, billboards, conventional television commercials are less and less meaningful. If I could create something that’s more participatory, more of an exploration, it really gives my consumer the ability to get into my head, get into the way that I think. I think that’s a more successful way of marketing to people. And we live in such an interesting moment within popular culture right now, today, that we have this great window of opportunity with what’s happening within media. Where will it all go? How will this all shake out? How do we speak to people? Is it the internet? Is it communities within the internet? Is it video? What’s the role of video? How does video live on a screen that’s this big versus a screen that’s this big? It’s a great window of opportunity to talk to consumers.

CNBC:
So how would you describe the Air Force One event?

MARC ECKO:
When I did Air Force One, that was kind of at the emergency of YouTube as this phenomenon, and viral videos. And even the moment that it lived in, it probably couldn't live with quite the same return on investment as it did then, today. OK? There was a very unique moment there. And there were a lot of things in the air. It was all a reaction to a lot of grief I was getting over this video game that I had coming out, and the notion that there might be this crazy national graffiti epidemic because of the video game. And a friend of mine said, yeah, like, what are they going to do, tag the White House? And we laughed over it, and we said, well, what if you could? And we thought it was conceivable that, if not the White House, maybe Air Force One, and what a great piece of pop culture, a real watershed moment, right at the tipping point when viral video was still kind of out there, and it was the wild west, and merging, and it wouldn't look like it was being overly handled, or overly produced. And it was a really interesting moment. CNBC: So what is the purpose of these moments?

MARC ECKO:
My job is to be able to engage consumers and make them feel something. And the conventional means of speaking to them, if it’s outdoor print advertising, television, billboards, magazines, not that those aren't relevant, but they're not as resonant. So, I'm always seeking out original opportunities to speak to them. If it’s my Air Force One viral video that I did a couple years back, if it’s the debate over the seven hundred and fifty-sixth home run ball that Barry Bonds hit, if it’s my fearlessness in approaching mainstream markets by way of my float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I'm into speaking to them and disrupting the status quo means of how you speak to your consumer.

CNBC:
A Macy’s float is fairly conventional. A lot of big brands… Barney is in the Macy’s parade. Weren't you afraid that you were going to lose your street credibility?

MARC ECKO:
Yeah, you can't be afraid to approach mainstream markets. There has to be some swagger. And one of the reasons that we felt that the Macy’s Day Parade actually made a lot of sense for us was the irony of it, the tension of having our float right in front of the Dora the Explorer float. I think it was kind of poetic and a really cool pop culture moment. No nostalgia paralysis. I have no tolerance for nostalgia paralysis, this fear of over-thinking the past, or operating from this posture that what you did back then was the proper way of doing it today. I say no to that.

CNBC:
Couldn't it have back-fired?

MARC ECKO:
I suppose it could have backfired. You have to have teeth. You have to have a confidence in what you're doing, and you can't operate from this position that you need your peers, or the intellectual elite to validate you. Your consumer validates you. What you do with the consumer products you build, and the consumers call and response by buying the stuff, and/or not buying it, defines good or bad. So, you can't wear the golden handcuffs of the past. You have to be forward thinking. You have to seek change. You have to seek the desire to, as I said before, operate outside your comfort zone. And sometimes the most unconventional places are where you will find the most conventional wisdom.

CNBC:
I think you have a really strong marketing sensibility, and obviously it works.

MARC ECKO:
I wish I could say that, that… To me success is achieved as the sum of all these moving parts. It’s not one singular step, one singular stride, one of the mechanical moving parts in and of itself. It’s the sum total of all the experiences, the aggregate of these things that define success. So, you have to be constantly seeking those out, constantly thinking in an additive manner of when you're planning out your marketing plan for the quarter, the six months, or the year, you have to have fluidity in there. You have to have that capacity to say, I'm going to leave some room and some budget for the unknown, because it’s going to be those things, that magical element that, that allows you to have an immediacy of interaction with your consumer that’s going to define you maybe during the whole year.

CNBC:
But how do you find those magical moments?

MARC ECKO:
Sometimes they reveal themselves. I’ve got the good fortune of having amazingly talented young team that, is constantly seeking out what’s next, what’s new, either on the internet, or within print, or within conventional media, and really allows us to stay as informed as possible. But there’s no crystal ball. You're always struck to that one point where you have to make the call, and the call comes from here and here.

CNBC:
What about the Barry Bonds ball?

MARC ECKO:
The Bonds ball, the seven hundred fifty-sixth ball, this famous home run ball, was a great contemporary debate about our values, about pop culture, as much as it was about sports. And here we are in this great moment where the internet could really allow us to democratize the fate of this ball. I really wholly believed that. You took a little bit of American Idol, a little bit of a hard news talk show angle, and you could merge them together and create this amazing alchemy of a moment that would live on line and be a watershed pop culture moment. It comes from that place inside of me and the folks around me that’s constantly seeking out new, unconventional, means of speaking to the consumer. And to me this was honestly, selfishly probably more to do about me and a few of my friends. You’ve got to be careful. You have those friends in your life that you make a bet with and they're going to hold you to that bet no matter what, or they're going to shame you for the rest of your life? Well, those were, those were the folks I was hanging with that night when I said, I'm going to buy that ball.

CNBC:
You bought it on a bet?

MARC ECKO:
Yep, they bet I couldn't get it, and they bet I wouldn't put it up for a vote. So, … You got to hang out with troublemakers.

CNBC:
What are the Marc Ecko brands?

MARC ECKO:
Marc Ecko Enterprises is the sum of many different parts. My core business is the brand I started almost fifteen years ago called Ecko Unlimited. That’s the brand that has the rhinoceros logo, and really was derivative from those six T-shirts that I was airbrushing in my garage as a kid back in the day. In addition to that I have Marc Ecko Cut and Sew, which is about four years old, which is really kind of born from that brand. Still graphically rich, but a little bit more grown up. And certainly, still rich in the heritage of, of graphics, and illustrations, and familiar-ness. In addition to that we have Red by Marc Ecko, which is our women’s business. We have footwear and watches and children’s wear, and a bunch of other businesses built around the Ecko in Ecko branded businesses. We also have a brand that I acquired a few years back called Zoo York, which is a skateboarding brand, really emerging, very exciting space. G Unit, which is a business that’s in collaboration with my partner Fifty Cent. I have a magazine called Complex Magazine. I’ve got a video game division. There’s a lot of moving parts to, to my business.

CNBC:
And why is it important to have so many different brands?

MARC ECKO:
It’s my job to help extend this lifestyle experience. And it has to live beyond just my core competency. It has to just go back to my comfort zone. So, if it’s magazines, internet, video gaming, or conventional fashion consumer products, it’s the sum of those experiences that defines the lifestyle experience. And for me, it’s imperative to be speaking to my consumer at all these different touch points.

CNBC:
So how do you maintain a connection with your consumer through all these different platforms?

MARC ECKO:
You can't. I mean, just because you do well or you excel at one business doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to excel at another. So, you have to first start from the position of, does the market need this point of view and this product with or without your name. If the market demands that type of product without your name, then adding your name is just added value. So, you first have to get to the sweet spot of what the market’s demanding beyond the arrogance, well, my brand has the swagger to do it, therefore I could exist in the space with that consumer product. That’s not the case. So, for instance with Complex Magazine, it was built on a strong belief that there was a real opportunity in between, that wasn’t necessarily a hundred percent narrative driven magazine, let’s say, like, music, where magazines are a hundred percent about music, or a hundred percent about fashion, or a hundred percent about sports, but what if there was this aggregate of those things? Well, for advertisers, all of a sudden you become the very critical second step in the marketing plan, maybe not the first, but the second step. So, it validated the need in the market, and this belief of convergence, this mash-up of culture was going to define the magazine. And then, and it was only then, after we had vetted this all out, then adding my name to the equation maybe adds more value to both my brand and to the consumer experience. But you can't operate from that position of arrogance of, well, I could walk on water. No one walks on water except, JC. Supposedly.

CNBC:
There’s brands like Starbucks where it just became such a mass brand that it doesn't have that type of individual identity anymore. How do you hold on to that when you're everywhere?

MARC ECKO:
Well, first of all, I'm nowhere near everywhere. I mean, thank you for the analogy of us and Starbucks. I mean, I’ll deal with that when I get to that scale. I mean, selling caffeine is way different from selling sweatshirts. You don’t need a sweatshirt every morning when you get up. I mean, you do have to keep from being naked, but I know I definitely need caffeine every day. Look, as big as we are, I still pale in comparison to the biggest. OK? And I fight my battles, my war is won by fighting battles on many different battlefronts. I’ve learned more from, let’s say Liz Claiborne, and this kind of divide and conquer business model of different brands than I do from, let’s say Polo, or Nike, where you want to swoosh the world. I also believe that one of the ways that I keep my consumer guessing, and keep it engaging for my consumer is to never allow myself to have a definitive moment. There can't be a definitive image that sums up everything my brand stands for. that’s one of the biggest burdens, and one of the most exciting things about my brand. You can't summarize what I'm about in one still image. I can't hire Bruce Weber and have him take a picture of me in front of my house and be like, that’s Marc Ecko, that’s the Ecko Unlimited story. It’s not that simple. It’s much more about all the moving parts. It’s about, Motocross culture, extreme lifestyles, the internet, community, music, indie, emo, rock, punk, video gaming, RPG’s, MMORPG’s, geeking out, sexing out, whatever it is. And it’s fluid. Where other brands get to operate from a position of, well, I'm going to base myself on a historical moment of everything that was, I have to operate from a position of, I'm going to base, base myself on everything that will be. It’s a much different challenge. And to a certain extent it probably limits the capacity of how big and monstrous you can grow. That doesn't mean that the sum total of my businesses can't be big. The sum of the parts can be great. It’s not about rhino-ing the world. It’ not my ambition, that’s not my intent. So, it always leads to new opportunities. How I may develop the women’s business might not even be with the Ecko brand. That’s the exciting thing. It’s that fluid. It’s not about the places you operate from, it’s the spaces. Where brands are defined for years, it’s where you were from, the places you operated from. Today it’s not where you're from, it’s where you're at. What we’re finding more and more in business, it’s more of a smorgasbord, it’s a lot more of a buffet style, and it’s that kid that walks in not quite dressed to the cocktail standards that could all the sudden be the star of the room. Right? That’s the intrigue in business today. Spaces are what’s critical. Places are a thing of the past. Spaces are here. And that’s, that’s the thing really, really to concede and recognize in terms of what defines the consumer experience going forward.

CNBC:
It’s brave, though, it makes people scared if they can’t define what they are.

MARC ECKO:
You just have to operate faster. The women’s fashion business always had the burden of having to operate twelve, fourteen deliveries a year. The men’s fashion business used to operate at eight, nine deliveries a year. It’s not like that anymore. Men move a lot faster, and the consumption cycle is, you are constantly iterating on things, constantly re-checking yourself, constantly vetting out what they want. And you have to have a built in tolerance for experiment, failure. And sometimes the things that you suspect or expect are going to be the winners end up being the dogs. And sometimes the dogs, or the things that you think are going to be the dogs, or the things you cringe at, are the things that can define success.

CNBC:
Could you please tell us, what is the “SEE” program?

MARC ECKO:
“SEE” is a education reform that really allows students to peak under the hood of the private sector. We take all of the knowledge that we take for granted in the private sector, and we peek under the hood, let them look beyond the wizard’s curtain and say, what would a design immersion curriculum look like? A four year high school design curriculum that really allows us to re-brand vocational education. We started by servicing under-served New York City youth. We’ve now scaled the program around the northeast. And it’s exciting to me, this idea of teaching kids to the open hire, rather than teaching them to a test. The program, “SEE”, or Sweat Equity Enterprises has taken kids, we now have about a hundred plus kids, and they’ve designed everything, like watches with Timex, shoes with Sketchers, cars with Nissan, marketing campaigns for Radio Shack, and we really are growing our corporate alliances, and asking our corporate partners, who are ultimately stakeholders in the success of our American education system. Because after all, we need to employ critically thinking innovation-seeking passion-hunting people in the future. So, it’s important that our education system has the capacity to yield that kind of student, that kind of next generation employee.

CNBC:
And you don’t only teach them these skills, but you're also helping follow through with helping them apply to college and—

MARC ECKO:
Yeah, besides just teaching them great life skills, if they're design-oriented or not, we really are prepping these kids for life skills that they wouldn't otherwise get in high school. So much of why I started this program is because I employ so many young people. And I employ people with fancy degrees from universities, and I can't tell you how many times, more times than not, I have people say, I wish they taught me that in school. And that’s what “SEE” is about, really allowing kids to earn and own what they know, this idea of Sweat Equity. You’ve got to work for it. And ultimately owning that knowledge base is the greatest asset and the, the greatest thing to have equity in.