What’s in a name? For start-up apparel company Cali’s Finest, quite a bit. It’s been one of the crucial factors setting them apart from day one from other brands in the space, and admittedly, it’s hard not to listen up when someone drops a name like that.
“You can’t say ‘I am Billabong’ or ‘I am RVCA’ or ‘I am LRG,’ but you can say ‘I am Cali’s Finest,'”says Cali’s Finest Co-founder and CEO Michael Shapiro. “No matter where you are in the world when you say “I am Cali’s finest,” you will undoubtedly stand out and look good doing it.”
Cali’s Finest began as a simple T-shirt company, and a way for the brand’s founders to express their love for Cali and the state’s lifestyle explains Shapiro. After traveling around the world from 2005 to 2007, it became even more apparent to Shapiro and the crew how much California’s lifestyle, fashion, music, and sports’ trends were admired on a global level. “No matter what country or city we were in, everybody ‘loved Cali’ and wanted the hats off our head and the shirts off our back,” he says.
Upon the discovery, they trademarked “Cali’s Finest,” built a website, and began the creative process for a diverse range of graphic T-shirts, which has now expanded to include jackets, hoodies, boardshorts, hats, and button down wovens. The brand has seen a natural gravitation toward the action sports industry, and has a few major athletes on board including San Diego native and surfer Justin McBride, pro surfer Adam Knox, and skateboarder Jereme Rogers, to name a few. The brand has also managed to secure some top accounts, ranging from BC Surf and Tilly’s, to a premiere collection of high-end T-shirts, hoodies, and jackets for Neiman Marcus set to hit late this summer and retail starting at $125.
Shapiro recently shared the brand's story, as well as marketing and sales strategies for 2013 and beyond. Here's a sneak peek of what's to come with Cali's Finest:
What’s the concept and story behind the brand?
Cali’s Finest is the premiere lifestyle brand encompassing coastal surf culture, street wear, and skate, all infused into one. The brand is heavily influenced and deeply rooted by various music genres and artists alike, that stem from reggae, hip-hop, and rock. Bridging the gap of Northern and Southern California, Cali’s Finest has united the state as one to make “The Brand of California!” The innovative art and culture that influences fashion and trends worldwide has enabled CF to utilize all of these resources available to represent the culture to its fullest. It’s not just a lifestyle, it’s a movement!
What audience do you feel is your target demographic?
Anyone that loves, respects, and admires this California lifestyle is our audience. We have something for everybody from the young and sporty, to the more mature and classy. Cali’s Finest draws from all of the lifestyles of Cali so we fit just about anywhere.
What retailers are carrying the collection?
Tillys, Dr. Jays.com/stores, Dillard’s, I Love LA, Hansen’s, BC Surf, Stewarts, Sundance Beach, Left Coast Threads, Triumph, Trendsetters, and Shiekh Shoes. Nationwide we’re in Brazil, Japan, Europe and currently in negotiations with Central/South America and Canada, just to name a few. We are growing quickly, so keep a look out for us!
What athletes and/or celebs do you have on board with the brand?
On the athlete side: Justin McBride, Diego Rosa, Adam Knox, Jereme Rogers, Cameron Padilla, Carlos De Adrade
On the celebrity side: Snoop Lion, Ice Cube, Too Short, San Quinn, Katchafire, Sashamon, Slightly Stoopid, Marley Brother’s (Rohan Marley), Capleton, Bone Thugs and Harmony, Given The Day, Colin Kaepernick, DeSean Jackson, Hank Baskett, Kendra Wilkinson, Luke Walton, Jerome Williams.
Take a look at Cali’s Finest 2013 Lookbook:
How does the brand plan to activate around the Action Sports market in particular as far as marketing, in-store POP, and specific partnerships with core endemic retailers, etc.?
We are currently building skate parks in Brazil with our CF Brazil team! On a local level, we are working on involving our brand with both surf and skate contests for the upcoming youth. We are looking to place ads with endemic publications like TransWorld as well as Bliss, Hip Hop Weekly, The Source, and Stab. Not to mention we have a PR firm that will be doing nationwide press releases and helping handle our social media needs.
Our in-store POP will be uniquely different than our competitors, but we are not able to disclose this information yet. One example is our recycled wetsuit matts, made from neoprene, that are more comfy than your grandmother’s slippers.
At the moment we are working closely with Tilly’s and Dr. Jays on in-store signings, press releases, and collaborative events/giveaways. As the brand grows, we plan to involve our top accounts in clothing release party’s, fashion shows, and music videos and concerts with our artists and musicians. Ideas like these will help our accounts stay involved and create brand awareness with their employees.
How do you plan to differentiate your brand at retail through marketing, POP, etc.?
Our lifestyle brand has created a natural or “grass roots” marketing appeal that has been endorsed by the best artists, athletes, design concepts and culture to brand our image naturally, versus monetarily. This is the premiere lifestyle brand, with the utmost recognition and respect. No one can really compete with these elite athletes, artists, or us, when it comes to marketing because we are so damn cool and different from the rest of the world. People see famous stars and athletes embracing our brand culture leaving them awe struck with the wow factor.
Our POP, enables us to “stand-out” in-store, and build our brand awareness instantaneously with our target market/customer. Anyone infatuated with the California lifestyle, will be drawn to our brand!
What is your take on the current state of action sports retail?
Action sports retail is continuing to grow exponentially both domestically and internationally. Eastern cultures are beginning to embrace the action sports events, fashion, and culture with great success and growth rates. When skateboarding and surfing becomes as big as the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA, then it will be safe to say, we’ve reached our peak. With that said, it is evident that there is plenty of room to grow.
Even though the internet has evolved, as well as online sales, it has not taken away from people’s passion, connection, and loyalty to their local ride shop. As far as the rest of the world is concerned however, in places like Asia, Europe, Middle East, and Latin America, the world of action sports retail is in its infant stage.
What do you think are the biggest opportunities for a startup brand at this time? Challenges?
The biggest opportunity for a startup brand at this time is to create something new that nobody has seen before, so you can take what you like from the competitive marketplace and make yourself uniquely different when creating new product. You really have to find your niche and go after it. If you don’t have something unique or someone big backing you it can be extremely difficult to break through into this industry. Always remember, “your niche gets you rich!”
At the same time there are tremendous growth opportunities on a global level and Cali’s finest is just now finding its way into these markets. Global trends for a globally admired lifestyle…Cali’s Finest.
Follow the jump for more from the brand on key lessons learned, distribution goals, and key partnerships.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in the process of starting Cali’s Finest?
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and the right people believing in you and backing you. Staying focused, positive and never giving up. As long as you believe whole heartedly in your dream and never give up, you will go a long way. You never burn a bridge! It’s a small world we live in and an even smaller industry we play in. Always utilize your network in the most positive manner for the most positive results.
In hindsight, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
In life, we try not to dwell on the past, there are many things we wanted to do differently but you can’t change the past. Through perseverance, hard work, teamwork and dedication, we are where we are today. No matter how much we think about what we could of done differently, we are perfectly happy, and exactly where we want to be today.
What are your goals for the brand as far as distribution, brand awareness/marketing, etc. over the next 12 months?
We are taking on many different international distribution opportunities as we speak. We expect huge growth on a global scale over the next 12 months and our brand awareness to go right along with it.
How do you measure success and ROI for the brand?
We measure success by our domestic and international growth. Not to mention, the key players we brought onboard to create our ultimate “Dream Team.” Our current and growing partnerships and clients are like family to us. Trust is a must!
Our ROI is measured on results. This basically means margins, corporate growth, international growth, cost-benefit analysis/cost effectiveness and lots of awesome PO’s. WE LOVE NUMBERS!
What do you think is the biggest mistake a startup brand can make and why?
Believing you will have instant success. Let’s face it, these days almost anyone can have a great idea for a t-shirt, but can you market that idea and get it out to the masses? That’s the real question. It takes a lot of the right kind of genius to do this and not everyone is prepared for or cut out to do this. You have to be skilled to be lucky!
Are you partnering with any specific retailers on events, specific product collabs, etc?
We are currently finalizing a partnership with Sector 9 for our hardgoods….Skateboards! We are also in discussions with the boys at Osiris regarding a shoe collab. We currently do events with both Monster and Rockstar. We will be doing our first “Who is Cali’s Finest” Golf tournament in Carlsbad, and hoping to partner with TransWorld.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We would like to thank our friends and Family for supporting us since the beginning. Not just the beginning of the brand, but since our life journey began. They have helped lead us down the path to success and without their love and support, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We’d like to give a BIG shout out to Alan Shapiro, Jessica Friedkin, El Rock, Alex “VICE” Osio, the “Graphic Guru” Kevin Ancheta and the one and only Al Fresh who have backed us since day 1, and the rest of the team here at “Cali’s Finest. Craig “HUG Life” Skidmore(Director of Operations), Mike “I’m always sick” Kelley (Head Designer), Loren “Bagel face” Laguens(National Sales/marketing manager), Christian “I’m always late” Lass (Director of Sales), and Matt “Greenie” Greenberg(Co-Founder/CCO).
Now go check us out at calisfinestclothing.com and be a part of the CF family.