In 1992, John, 46, co-founded the FUBU sportswear clothing line on a $40 budget while he was living with his mother.
He believes that someone who starts a business when they are broke –- that is, from a place of desperation and great hunger -- are forced to be more creative, efficient and authentic. The result is innovative ideas and solutions that make their mark, he said.
"It's touching on those things you have, assets that you don't realize you have because you don't have any capital, you actually have to tap into that," John said.
John’s mother had taught him to sew, so he purchased about $40 in material and produced a few dozen tie-top hats. In one day, he sold them all on a street corner in his native Queens, making $800.
John and his mother, Margot, were turned down by 27 banks when they sought a business loan. His mother finally took out a second mortgage on her home so her son and his partners could turn it into a FUBU factory.
Margot John –- a flight attendant who worked other jobs -- was very smart and always told her son that he had to study his passion, but she always made it clear that he had to take responsibility for his own dreams, he said. She also advised him to surround himself with like-minded people because others would distract him from his objectives, he said.
"Mom is great," John said. "A lot of mothers don't realize this: they are already entrepreneurs because they're the ultimate startup. When you have a child there's no blueprint on how you're going to raise this child."
John raised the brand’s profile by persuading up-and-coming musicians to wear the line’s garments in music videos. LL Cool J famously wore a FUBU hat in a 1997 GAP commercial, even doing a freestyle rap about FUBU in the commercial. No one at the GAP realized the significance of the rap until about a month later. The ad was pulled and several executives were reportedly fired, John has said.
"Everybody says you need opium," John said. "Opium could be other people's marketing, other people's man power, or other people's manufacturing."
While John was creating FUBU he kept his day job at Red Lobster. To celebrate his success, “GMA” had a special delivery from the restaurant chain brought to John on the set.
"The Power of Broke" is available for purchase starting today.