Meet Martez Malone, founder of YeKim. The premium Los Angeles fashion startup recently opened its doors to the public after years of working exclusively with celebrity clients. Martez tells us more about YeKim and what crowdfunding means for the company.
What’s the story behind YeKim?
I moved to Los Angeles to work as a music producer but was quickly drawn to the fashion scene. I focused on custom fashion designs because I felt existing brands under-delivered on style and fit, particularly for hip hop artists. To build a strong brand, I knew YeKim needed influencers. I researched LA celebrities who would take my brand to the next level and ended up making over 100 custom leather varsity jackets. It was expensive, but worth it. Before I knew it, I had a showroom in Hollywood with celebrities coming through my doors.
The next big step was moving into retail. It was new and a little nerve-wracking, but all 22 jackets in my first retail order sold out in under 48 hours. That’s when I knew I really might be onto something.
It was new and a little nerve-wracking, but all 22 jackets in my first retail order sold out in under 48 hours.
Fashion trends shift so often, how do you keep up?
If you have the relationships and the ability to market effectively, you set the fashion trends. We work directly with celebrities and social media influencers, who endorse products on their social media.
Do you have a favorite fashion influencer?
A friend of mine, Law Roach, who is a judge on America’s Next Top Model. Law is an incredible stylist who has worked with celebrities such as Zendaya and Celine Dion.
What’s a surprising learning you’ve had in building YeKim?
It’s not easy! People these days are all about money, especially in the celebrity world. Brand equity is critical and it’s hard to find support until you achieve a certain level of success. Getting YeKim to that point took years of work and relationship building.
Why does crowdfunding appeal to you?
Crowdfunding connects me with people who resonate with YeKim. Crowdfunding gives me exposure to investors who understand the fashion industry and the value of certain marketing strategies, such as contracting celebrity influencers for brand development.
Who is your dream fan?
Kanye West. He is also from Chicago, so there’s a great deal of mutual perspective. I feel he would respect my deep knowledge and relationships in the fashion industry, which allow me to create premium products without prohibitive production costs.
Let’s say you raised a million dollars to bring YeKim to the next level, how would you use it?
I would use it to focus on my influencer marketing strategy. I want to refine YeKim’s brand ambassador program, starting with four celebrities already in mind.
I’d also use the money to open my own factory and create more business opportunities: I could take production in-house and use excess bandwidth to manufacture clothing for other companies. I’ve seen Horween Leather Company (which is based in my hometown) effectively employ this strategy to produce premium goods for other brands.
As a founder, how do you balance your work and personal life?
My family and three of my kids are in Chicago, while I’m in Los Angeles with my youngest child, who is only four months old, so it’s hard to find a balance. Being a founder involves sacrifices but I know that if I don’t get it done, I’m not going to advance. That keeps me going.