8&9 Clothing's Ray Guilbault on Miami Hip-Hop and Defying "That's Impossible"
Ray Guilbault, founder of 8&9 Clothing.
It's 2001 and Ray Guilbault is attending the University of Miami. He has begun to customize his clothing with various logos. And soon, the numbers "8&9" catch his attention.
Guilbault calls his friend, Figgs, to let him know they're about to launch a clothing line. The reply isn't one of optimism.
"He was like, 'That's impossible,'" says Guilbault. "Literally, he said that to me. I was like, 'No, I'm pretty sure we can do that.'"
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It was an era where urban fashion was overrun by Sean Jean, Eckō Unltd., LRG, and Rocawear, and other companies, many by some of your favorite hip-hop artists. Remember Eminem's and Snoop Dogg's lines?
After working on developing custom products and getting samples made with pattern makers in New York, Guilbault took all of his production to Pakistan. Then September 11 happened.
"Piece by piece, the initial order came in, but I didn't really get enough to sell to retail until spring of the following year," says Guilbault. "And then I had no complete size runs. I didn't have matching styles. It was like, one style, I might have no medium. One style, I have no large or extra large. So I basically had to create a whole new strategy because we weren't able to sell to retail."
To recoup some of his losses and save enough for major production, Guilbault had to sell clothing hand-to-hand in order to keep the name alive. His graphics were seen on cars at car shows. The company sponsored a motorcycle stunt team. The 8&9 name was used as a password phrase for entrance into clubs. And after partnering with DJs, it was used for reentry with the purchase of a shirt or two from pop-up shops.
Even today, Guilbault and team's marketing strategy is street level. They consistently invite the public to their showroom in Miami for parties, pop-ups, and other events featuring some of South Florida's top hip-hop artists, many of whom have also been used as 8&9 models.
Recently, Guilbault took some time to speak with Crossfade about collaborating with Jadakiss and Styles P, Diddy wearing an 8&9 shirt, and the future of his line.
Crossfade: What's your favorite meaning of 8&9?
Guilbault: I started the brand specifically because I wanted a name that would not pigeonhole you into a certain market. You know, in high school, "Oh, that kid's a skater" or "That kid's goth" or "That kid is hood," or whatever the case may be. I really wanted something that people could relate to in their own type of way. So my favorite meaning is the actual significance of the number, which is 8 is the symbol for infinity and 9 is a perfect number.
We always say "infinite perfection," which is not that we're infinitely perfect, but it is an infinite quest for perfection, which means to me that we wake up everyday, bust our ass, evaluate ourselves appropriately the same way other people do, make sure that we're always improving, we acknowledge our flaws, and we try to work on them and become better people, a better business.
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