Unlabel by Marc Ecko


RATING: 7/10…READ: December 16, 2013

The autobiographical story of how Marc Ecko built Ecko Clothing, his rise, struggles, losing his way, and lessons learned. My favorite part of this book was learning about Marc trying to hang out with celebrities/become some mega huge Ralph Lauren type clothing company, losing his way, and then becoming authentic to who he really is.

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You must move from the mind-set of “I am a consumer and I want X” to “I am a producer and I create Y.” Create can be anything; you don’t have to be an artist or musician or inventor. Maybe you create code or create ads; or if you’re a dental hygienist, you create clean teeth.

People can take your job. No one can take away the brand you’ve created and your ability to create again. Let them smash what you’ve been saving, let them burn what you’ve built— when you can create, the power is yours, not theirs. What happens when your job is yanked away? What happens when your career becomes obsolete? What happens when you shit the bed— hard?

Having an overly majestic “vision” can cripple you with pressure. When I started with graffiti, I thought about my next eighteen hours, not my next eighteen years. Free yourself to do the same.

If you can’t express your idea convincingly in black and white and slap it together on a Xerox machine— I mean low-budget —then your idea is not believable.

It’s ideas , not dollars. Artfulness, not computer graphics. Not models. Not celebrities. Believable , defendable ideas.

Just because you’re an artist, or a thinker, or an athlete doesn’t mean that you can get around the math. When I evaluate business proposals today, I always look for the how and the why. I do the math, did you? Prove it to me.

Funny how necessity breeds invention. (I wish I had muscle memory , as that lesson would have served me well later. Reduce risk, lower your required capital, and focus on what you’re really good at— and hire others for what you are not.) This is something you should think about in any business: don’t try to do everything. You aren’t the best at everything. Find out where you have an advantage and stick to that.


1. Never Send Directly to Someone’s Home I’ve had that happen. It’s fucking creepy. Everyone has a business address, and in this day and age, they’re sufficiently accessible.

2. Never Expect Your Intended Audience to Even See It So make it good enough that even if it gets to only his or her lieutenant— which will often be the case— you still make a material impact.

3. Never Send Just the Stock Shit Think deeply about what you will send them, and work hard at customizing the content so that the end user will recognize this as an amazing, highly personalized gift. And it’s just that— a gift— so . . .

4. Never Have Expectations, as It’s Just a Gift The joy and purpose has to come from the confidence that you did it; you took ACTION. Not everyone will acknowledge receipt. That’s okay.

5. Never Handwrite Your Marketing Materials It’s one thing to send a handwritten cover note (preferably a 6” × 4.5” stock postcard) that’s less than twenty words. Fine. But it’s something else to send an all-handwritten business proposal that looks like it came from Son of Sam. I don’t care how legible your writing is. Type.

6. Never Use Secondhand Packaging Materials A used Trapper Keeper folder— with maybe a sticker over the dents so that you pass it off as new— ain’t cutting it. Why should I take your idea seriously if you’re not even willing to make a quick trip to Staples?

7. Never Stalk If you have a phone number or email of an executive assistant, fine, it’s okay to call once in advance and then again once in confirmation of receipt. (You can also send it with a certified receipt, so you know who signed for it, and when.) But don’t call repeatedly like some psycho. Not cool.

8. Never Forget to Include Your Name, Email, and Phone Number Don’t presume that anyone is going to read a long letter. If the visual impact and the overall wraparound

9. Never Send a Picture of Yourself Fan-Boying Out Again, creepy. Let the content and the high concept speak for you. Don’t send some weird head shot.

10. Never Gush Notable figures don’t like being fawned over. Be careful to whom you say— and how often you say—“ I love you.” (Good rule for life in general.) Don’t tell them, “You are my idol.” Speak matter-of-factly, and acknowledge the traits or practices that you respect and admire.

The gatekeepers are not the goalkeepers. The goalkeepers are the ones who actually keep the score. This is the endgame. In fashion, it’s the people wearing your clothes. In music, it’s the people listening to your creations. In business, it’s who’s buying your products. Goalkeepers matter. Gatekeepers think they matter. Perception versus reality.

When you’re commercializing a craft— be it art, cooking, or masonry— there’s always going to be people who consider themselves more hard core than you or more real than you. But real by whose standards? Authentic by what laws of compliance? A school? Training? Creation can’t be bound by some esoteric code of ethics that ends up limiting your vision or putting constraints on how far you can stretch or grow.

One of the worst lies ever told is that perception is reality. I hate that phrase. Reality is reality.

I realized that for every assortment, I needed to find my John Travolta, my Harrison Ford, my Denzel— and I needed to build the line around that star. In the past, I’d make thirty sweatshirts and be disappointed that twenty-nine of them wouldn’t be as good as the thirtieth. Epiphany: I should be proud and conscious of that one darling of a thirtieth sweatshirt, make it the star, and I should build the collection around it.

That’s important no matter where you are in life: who you are or how you may be perceived. It’s part of the INFINITE-TRUTH aspect of the formula: Are you just saying it, or are you doing it, no matter the circumstances, or even if you’re out of your comfort zone?

I’ve made some really ugly shit. That’s part of the process. If you’re never making ugly shit, then you’re never taking chances, and you’re never pushing yourself to make the sublime.

Fred Durst was sort of charmed that I wasn’t fazed by his criticism. Ultimately he wasn’t endorsing my product, he was endorsing our philosophy. He wasn’t endorsing WHAT WE MADE, he was endorsing HOW WE MADE PEOPLE FEEL.


1. Get Over Your Fear Too many people are afraid of licensing. (This goes back to the FEAR part of the formula.) Great, authentic brands have the capacity to flex and to stretch, and should have good elastic memory so as never to lose the form of the core. Licensing needn’t be a dirty word. Is Gucci suddenly a schlocky brand because its eyewear is licensed by the Luxottica Group?

2. Take Your Time Wait for a partner that’s right for you. With Timex, it took us two years of courtship before we climbed into bed. It’s worth the wait.

3. Don’t Immediately Go to the Highest Bidder It’s easy to get seduced by a frothy forecast of royalties. If you have to choose between two partners:

Partner A: guarantees a higher royalty percentage, and has a lukewarm and outsider sense of your brand.

Partner B: gives you less favorable terms but understands your brand completely, internally, intimately, and in ways even you haven’t considered. Go with partner B ten times out of ten. We had plenty of higher bidders than Timex (and other great partners), and the “advisors” said we should go with the $ $ $. Instead, we went with a partner that knew us from our guts to the skin.

4. Let Them Take You to School Good licensing partners are ones you can learn from. This is a free education— take advantage of it.

5. Pretend That You’re Hiring Them It’s easy to shake hands with a partner and then walk away, thinking that you’ll never really deal with him on a day-to-day basis. False. For a licensing partnership to truly work, you need to get in the trenches together, and that means you should actually like working with the dude. So when you make your decision, pretend that this is not just someone you’ll be meeting with occasionally, but someone you’ll see every day as if he’s your employee and can’t be fired. Would you still do it? If the answer is no, then walk.


It’s one thing to have KNOWLEDGE, but do you have the ability to grasp that knowledge, to internalize it, to learn from it?

Look no further than Mel Gibson. The dude must “know” that it’s kind of uncool to make anti-Semitic rants and to call women “Sugar Tits,” and he must “know” that acting like a douche has the power to submarine his career, but just like the I-banks, his HUBRIS trumped HUMILITY. Businessman and investor Warren Buffett continues to show us that even having more money than God doesn’t stop him from being humble enough to know what he doesn’t know. He lives by the motto “Never invest in a business you can’t understand.” HUMILITY is one of the few variables in the formula that are okay to max out.

Straightforward enough. You can be the most humble person in the world, but eventually you need to couple that mind-set with some actual, real-world knowledge. And the best knowledge is the kind you get through experience.


One of the most frequent (and annoying) questions I hear from Fortune 500-type companies is “How do we connect with the youth? How do we make our brand seem cool?” The first thing you should know about “youth” is that they would never use the word “youth.” More substantively, we need to let go of the idea that teens are somehow so exotic, a different species. Companies try and manufacture or productize a conversation with teens as if they’re this “other thing.” Forty-year-old brand managers forget that they themselves were once teens. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves, being a teenager represents everything that’s hopeful about the future— but fucking scary as well.

Parents aspire to relive those years (and they’ll also parrot their teenage kids so they can seem “in the know” or “wid’it”); and teens’ younger siblings look up to them for their independence, physical strength, and voice. Teens are the heart of the family. It makes sense that agencies want their attention. Just know that you can’t capture cool any more than you can capture happiness. She’s an elusive mistress . . . and hates to be described by name.

This generation, more than ever before, is deliberate and thoughtful about building their own personal brands. They recognize that cool is earned. It’s a function of the respect they will pay someone or something for the performance, utility, or evidence of a unique skill or idea. It only comes from the inside out. The way that you become “cool” is by building your own personal brand, and by building it authentically. You must create the evidence through your actions to earn the currency of cool. Not to your “end customer” or to your “target demo.” So scrap your PowerPoint presentations and think, instead, about fulfilling the deeper promise of your brand.


1. Have Sex with the Lights On One reason that my marriage works so well— Allison, I hope you don’t mind me sharing this— is that it doesn’t matter if it’s dark, if it’s bright, if it’s two o’clock in the morning or two o’clock in the afternoon, it’s go time. When you have the right partner, you don’t need the dark, and you don’t need to be drunk. The same goes for businesses. When you first meet someone with a different company culture, it’s tempting to not show your true self, maybe tweaking your presentation (what you wear), the way you communicate (suddenly becoming more formal), or changing your overall cultural vibe. Just be yourself. If you’re meeting with a suit-wearing exec from BFC (Big Fucking Company), don’t pretend that you’re blue blood when you are not. Yes, be respectful, but you shouldn’t change how you present your personal brand. If you and BFC are going to go into bed together, it’s better to know early— with the lights on—if you still want to see each other naked.


What, exactly, are “friends,” and how do they fit in the framework of brands, labels, and authenticity? You have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook. You have a handful of lifelong friends for whom you would take a bullet. And then you have a range of people in between. The roots of the word go back to the Old English frēond, which was a riff on frēon, which meant “to love.” Why does this matter? At every level of the game of perception, people like to toss around the word friend so that they will, in turn, benefit, whether it’s a B-lister who wants to be “friends” with Oprah or someone who says to the club doorman, “I know I’m not on the guest list, but I’m friends with the DJ.” Friendships should be treasured. Friendships shouldn’t be used. When I talk about this phase of my journey and drop names like dandruff, I do this not to talk about my friends, but to share an instructional warning, of sorts.


Not digital, but real-world social networking. If your goal is to grow your personal brand into a public persona, the subtle, mysterious stranger approach is most often not going to cut it. There are only so many people that can pull off the J. D. Salinger route of becoming famous for not being seen. The easier (though more painful) route is to hire a publicist— more explicitly, hire yourself—and will yourself to want to impress the red-carpeted world of celebrities, CEOs, and Twitter famous. I can’t hold your hand at the events, but here are ten tips for surviving them:

1. Value Quality over Quantity Your publicist will give you a social calendar that’s jammed with events, insisting that you “need to be” at all of them. This is false. Separate the “need to attends” from the “nice to attends,” and this will serve you better in the long run. Chasing the second tier of events will exhaust you and overexpose you, and you’ll burn out faster than yesterday’s news.

2. Don’t Overtly Parrot Most of the management books tell you to parrot the person you’re trying to impress, suggesting that you nod when she nods, touch your left nostril when she touches her left nostril, and then if she says, “I love Lady Gaga!” you say, “Oh my God, I love Lady Gaga too!!!!” The world does not need more parroting, and it’s okay to not love Lady Gaga.

3. Use Mints If, at any point in the day, your mouth has been open and if you’ve consumed food, chances are that your breath stinks. Do yourself a favor and freshen up your face.

4. Don’t Name-Drop It’s transparent and obnoxious. When I met George Lucas, even though at heart I was a starstruck fan boy, I would never say, “I saw Harrison Ford last week!” or “I just played golf with Steven Spielberg!” Lame. If you do want to slip in a name, it’s better to use one that’s more mundane, more grounded, like the celebrity’s lawyer that you might happen to know.

5. Never Ask for a Card You can (and should) give out your business card, but never ask for one in return. If people want to give you a card, they’ll give you their goddamn card.

6. Respect the Handler The notable might have a handler (assistant, publicist, manager, associate) standing with him or her at the party. When you meet the notable, also introduce yourself to the sidekick, and when you give the notable a card, give the sidekick a card too. Treat handlers with respect. Not only is this the right thing to do, but this could be the hand of the king— and they’ll later whisper into the king’s ear.

7. Drink Water This is work, it’s not a party.

8. Don’t Try to Speak to Everyone When Barry Sanders scored a touchdown, he would casually toss the football back to the ref, shrugging, and living by the credo “Act like you’ve been there before.” Just chill out. Don’t try to meet every celebrity and shake every hand. If you are conducting and managing your personal brand well, part of your brand will be to spend more time in this mildly toxic environment. You’ll be at these events again in the future, so let things happen more organically.

9. It’s Not About Being a “Closer” Lower your expectations about imagining that you may magically seal any deals. These events aren’t the right forum for giving someone the hard sell, for overt pitching, or to become someone’s best friend.

10. Know That They’re Working Too Even famous people don’t like getting dressed up and making a fuss about how they look. Even if they have a giant dick or won the Most Beautiful Woman in the World award, the chances are that they still had anxiety about getting dressed up and going to this event. It’s work for them too. Take comfort in this.

“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul.”  –JUNG


1. Know Your Emotions by Name Write them down. Are you happy, are you angry, are you jealous? Are you suspicious? Identify these emotions and tack them back to reality. What in your real life is making you feel that way?

2. Take an Emotional Inventory Either you’re defined by the things you love, or you’re defined by the things you hate. Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper. On one side write Love and on the other, Hate. Be honest and write down what’s motivating you, and why. I’m not saying you should be all Dalai Lama and shit, and a bit of revenge can be a great motivator, but if you have too much negative energy, that can come back and bite you.

3. Don’t Be the Round Peg in the Square Hole With my trip down the celebrity rabbit hole, I was trying to be something I’m not. It wasn’t who I am from the GUTS TO THE SKIN. Be honest about who you are and what you bring to the table.

4. Go Easy on Using the Word “Movement” A lot of creators invest too much emotion into what they imagine as a “movement.” Sorry to bum you out, but the only movements you’re going to make are bowel movements. Instead of measuring yourself by crossing the finish line of that movement, measure yourself by one rung of the ladder at a time. Real movements congeal more naturally, organically. They sort themselves out in ways you can’t plan or strategize. So be easy, Machiavelli!

5. Talk to Someone Besides Yourself It’s okay if it’s a shrink, if it’s your spouse, a best friend, or a loved one. Cherish that pillow talk. And if you’re not getting pillow talk or the feedback of pillow talk at least once a week, something’s not right. Don’t be one of those people who are too proud to say that they’re going to the doctor. And, no offense, even your relationship to God alone is not enough. You need someone who can talk back to you.