|Founder||Kimora Lee Simmons
Baby Phat, created in 2000, is a clothing, shoes, accessory, perfume, and lifestyle line for women and girls. Model and entrepreneur, Kimora Lee Simmons, developed the brand in 1999 and served as the president and creative director until 2010. Lee Simmons was able to bring the urban clothing brand to mainstream fashion by creating the popular fitted T-shirt and designer denim line.The fashion line merged hip-hop culture with high fashion under Russell Simmon's Phat Fashions LLC label. The brand is carried in retail and department stores, including Macy's and Dillard's. The label is credited for catering to female urban wear in a market predominately geared toward men.
In 2004, Kellwood Company bought Phat Fashions for $140 million, but Kimora Lee Simmons maintained control as president and creative director of Baby Phat until 2010.
Baby Phat was established under Phat Fashions LLC in 1999 as an extension of the urban menswear brand Phat Farm. Before Kimora Lee Simmons took charge, the Baby Phat symbol was placed on simple T-shirts and given as party favors to celebrities and models like Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. By incorporating the T-shirts into Phat Farm fashion shows to appeal to female audiences, the symbol began to build momentum and recognition as celebrities stepped out in the T-shirts.
However, Lee Simmons did not believe that fit of the T-shirts complimented a woman's body, so she took it upon herself to redesign the style of Baby Phat t-shirt. Before Lee Simmons eye, little was being done to with the symbol and brand of Baby Phat, as much of the focus was on Phat Farm. Russell Simmons, seeing Kimora's passion and taking into account her fashion background, named her president and creative director of the line in 2000, where Lee Simmons developed a more fitted T-shirt that catered toward the female body. Baby Phat would now serve as the female counterpart to the menswear brand Phat Farm.
Under the direction of Lee Simmons, Baby Phat entered the fashion world as one of the few urban brands led by a woman, with clothing catered specifically to women. Phat Farm, Rocawear, and FUBU were urban brands that targeted men, and women adapted the masculine style to their own fashions. Lee Simmons's experience in the fashion world contributed to her vision for the line – she wanted to create high fashion for an affordable price, mirroring her "fabulous" lifestyle. In little time, the brand soon grew to include a full collection of clothing and accessories.
By 2001, Baby Phat grossed had $30 million, and in 2002 Phat Farm and Baby Phat made a combined profit of $265 million. In 2003, Baby Phat's sales went up 30 percent from the previous year's profits.
In just a few short years, Baby Phat had become a leading brand in the industry and one of Russell Simmon's most profitable companies. A combination of celebrities wearing the brand and the idea of buying Baby Phat meant mirroring the "fabulous" lifestyle of Lee Simmons, urged people to buy the clothing.
ln 2003, Lee Simmons partnered with Russell Simmons to launch Baby Phat Prepaid Rush Visa Card during Baby Phat's Merceds-Benz Fashion Week show in New York. The pink card with the Baby Phat logo is modeled after the Rush Visa Card, but offers a ten percent refund on online Baby Phat purchases.
During the early years of Baby Phat, their fashion shows often hosted a variety of celebrities and politicians in the audience. Al Sharpton, Hillary Clinton, Paris Hilton, Barbara Bush, Brittany Murphy, Tyra Banks, and Mýa are just a few of the people who attended the 2003 Bryant Park fashion show. Known for theatrics, her fashion shows during the early 2000s were the highlight of Fashion Week.
The Baby Phat brand began to expand in January 2004, after Russell Simmons sold Phat Fashions to Kellwood Company for $140 million. Despite the sale, Russell Simmons remained president of Phat Fashions and Kimora continued to work as the president and creative director of Baby Phat. Russell Simmons sold the company to gain funding and more production sites to keep up with the new demand for Phat Fashions products. By selling the company, Russell Simmons hoped to expand promotional deals and build more stores. However, Lee Simmons has stated that the sale led to an adjustment in the way she conducted business.
In 2002, Baby Phat and Phat Farm signed a two-year contract with Motorola, Inc. to launch a pink, 0.4 diamond carat cellphone. By 2004, the designer i833 phone, which included exclusive wallpaper and ringtones, was sold exclusively at Bloomingdale's.
In the summer of 2004, Baby Phat partnered with Vida Shoes International Inc., a leading footwear production company, to sell stilettos, athletic shoes, and boots, marking Baby Phat's first venture into the shoe industry.
Naming Lee Simmons as president of the company, Russell Simmons left Phat Fashions in 2006 to focus on other business ventures. This made Lee Simmons one of the black women to be leading a billion dollar empire.
In 2006, Phat Fashions partnered with Dan River, Inc., a manufacturer for lifestyle products, to produce bedding, bathroom accessories, and window treatments. It was Lee Simmon's vision to extend Phat Fashions to every aspect of the buyer's life and build the Phat Fashions beyond fashion, bringing urban and hip hop style to home decor.
Baby Phat also expanded to the Middle East, opening stores in the Mall of Emirates, Deria City Centre, and Marina Mall. Baby Phat was one of the few urban brands to be present on every continent with flagship stores and boutiques across the world.
Phat Fashions also signed a deal with Silver Goose/Kidstreet, an accessory production company, to create accessories for infants and toddlers in 2007.
Lee Simmons starred in Style Network's first reality show, "Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane." Premiering in 2007, the show later extended to E!. The series gave insight into the life of Lee Simmons, what influenced the Baby Phat brand, and the inner workings of running the company.
2007 saw the peak of Baby Phat. The brand had successfully marketed itself to every major product - baby clothes, perfumes, shoes, accessories, technology - and was available in every major department store. Though debated whether it was the most profitable urban wear brand, it was the most noticeable and influential in the market. In less than ten years, Baby Phat had grown to become an empire.
However, the 2008 recession (also known as the Great Recession), led to a decrease in sales. Since Baby Phat was not a classic luxury brand, like Louis Vuitton and Dior, it was not able to survive the recession. The brand's key customers were hit during the recession, causing a drop in sales. The brand, like many others, was not able to gain momentum again even as the economy grew.
Lee Simmons has cited that changes came to Baby Phat when Sun Capital Partners became the primary owners of Kellwood after purchasing a majority of the company's shares in 2008. This shift in leadership lead to changes in the way that Lee Simmons conducted business, possibly leading to the end of her presidency.
Lee Simmons announced via Twitter in August 2010 that she was leaving her position as president and creative director on September 1. Given her retweets, it can be assumed that the split with Baby Phat was not completely her decision. She told New York Daily News that the split was "very abrupt and sudden" and "very sad."
2011 – Present
After Lee Simmons left, a line did not show at New York Fashion Week. However, the brand returned the next year and is still sold at department stores like Macy's today. The brand is still heavily associated with Lee Simmons, but does not enjoy the same notoriety and sales as in previous years.
While the early 2000s saw limited urban wear brands, urban wear and hip hop is now a part of mainstream and high end fashion. As success from Baby Phat and other urban wear brands grew, more fashion companies saw potential in the style. Baby Phat was no longer the only urban wear brand marketed towards women. In 2017, Marc Jacobs debuted a line inspired by the history of hip hop. He is following the trend of now incorporated traditionally "urban" styles with mainstream fashion. This increased presence of urban wear and hip hop clothing led to a decline in sales, as the Baby Phat product is no longer unique.
Influence on the industry
In terms of runway shows, Baby Phat was the first to do many things. Lee Simmons was the first designer to have a show at Radio City Music Hall in 2006. Lee Simmons was also the first to live stream her show on a jumbotron in Times Square in 2009, allowing the public access to the normally exclusive runway shows. Now, most designers live stream their events or use social media to engage larger audiences.
The brand has had a major influence on merging hip hop and fashion, bringing urban wear to mainstream fashion. Baby Phat specifically targeted women, one of the only urban brands to do so.
Lee Simmons was also one of the few black women to be president of a billion dollar company. In 2005, she was considered the second-highest paid woman in New York.
Influences on the brand
The brand is inspired by Lee Simmon's lifestyle and interests. Lee Simmons calls herself unapologetically "hip hop," combining street styles from female hip hop stars like Lil' Kim and Mary J. Blige into her collection. As Russell Simmons' wife, who is considered one of the leadings figures in hip hop, she has been heavily influenced and shaped by the industry.
At fourteen, Lee Simmons made her debut with Chanel, and quickly became known as the muse of Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld. She has cited her time in the modeling industry, but most importantly working with Lagerfeld, as major influences. From watching Lagerfeld, Lee Simmons gained a perspective of the fashion industry and what it how to turn your expressions into fashion ideas.
Lee Simmons has also been open about her biracial background, seeing herself as equally black, Korean, and Japanese. In 2002, the line featured kimonos and croqueted flowers, which drew from her Japanese heritage.
Kimora Lee Simmon's reputation
Lee Simmons' credibility as a president often came into question due to her lavish lifestyle. Her reality show, over the top runway shows, jewerly and clothing, along with interviews (specifically a 2006 interview in Vanity Fair) painted Lee Simmons as a diva. However, Lee Simmons has accepted this persona and used it as a way to sell her "fabulous" brand.
Gendering and hyper-sexualization
In an attempt to create clothing that fit the female body, Baby Phat's clothing is often tight, short, and low-cut in an attempt to be "sexy." Some believe the brand's attire, coupled with advertisements featuring Lee Simmons and models clad in revealing clothing, contribute to the hyper sexualization of women.
Some believe that Baby Phat being marketed a strictly woman's line and the antithesis of men's clothing has contributed to gender norms.
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