Clothes label hits big time with Rahman

HOBO: When he won the heavyweight boxing championship, Hasim Rahman put the urban apparel brand on the map.

April 25, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

When a bloodied Hasim "Rock" Rahman threw the big right hand that won him the heavyweight title Saturday, he did it in style, wearing black velvet HOBOs with red satin trim.

Just like 20-1 underdog Rahman, HOBO, the Washington-based urban fashion line that opened a boutique in Baltimore a year ago, was largely obscure before last weekend. But both were suddenly famous in the fifth round, when Rahman knocked out defending champ Lennox Lewis while wearing trunks with the rhinestone logo - which stands for Helping Our Brothas Out.

Since then, photos of Baltimore's overnight boxing sensation and the label he endorses have been splashed across the world. Rahman wears HOBO across his headband, sweatshirt collar and sweatpants - and his entourage sports HOBO head to toe.

More should follow at today's City Hall rally, when Mayor Martin O'Malley will declare today Hasim Rahman day in Baltimore.

HOBO, which sells everything from jeans to fragrance to shoes, specializes in baggy, colorful street gear, selling at $140 for a sweatsuit and $10 for socks. In HOBO's two boutiques, one in downtown Baltimore and one in Capitol Heights, the label sells items including clingy tops and dresses for women, and loose-fitting pants and sportswear for men. HOBO tailored Rahman's boxing attire for the title fight, including the long black velvet duster-style jacket with an oversized hood he wore when he entered the ring.

"HOBO been with me when everybody else turned their back," Rahman said. "They're the hottest thing going now."

His opponent Lewis was wearing trunks by FUBU, a New York-based clothing line that stands for For Us By Us and promotes young black entrepreneurs.

HOBO founders Angela and John Day say they model their company after FUBU, which started its rise in the urban clothing world some years ago when rapper LL Cool J donned the brand.

The Days, who live in Clinton, are trying to get a big chunk of the growing urban clothes market. Designer sportswear - such as FUBU and Phat Pharm - are estimated to sell about $5 billion a year, according to Tom Julian, trend analyst for New York-based Fallon Worldwide, an advertising agency.

Most of the other fashion developed in recent years has been bland, said Howard Davidowitz, chairman Davidowitz & Associates Inc, a New York-based national retail investment banking firm. "Fashion has become boring, all mainstream stuff. If you look at the last five years, young fashion has emanated from the inner city," he said. "It is driving fashion."

But is a boxing champ's endorsement enough to make HOBO take off nationally?

"HOBO doesn't need a lot. If they've got the right fashion, a little push can mean a lot," Davidowitz said. "They've already got a guy who could be a model for inner-city youth."

Besides Rahman, William Joppy, a champion middleweight, and Sharmba Mitchell, a super lightweight champ, also wear HOBO in the ring.

HOBO gained further fame when the champ returned from the fight and asked fans and media to meet him at the Baltimore HOBO store on the west side of downtown.

Rahman, who lives in Abingdon with his wife and three children, grew up in Baltimore. Rahman's father, a devout Muslim, was even wearing HOBO sweatpants under his thawb, the traditional long, loose Muslim shirt dress. And O'Malley jumped on the bandwagon and slid a HOBO cap on his head for the cameras when someone handed it to him.

Vance Beasley, 31, says he wears HOBO gear every day because he likes the style and agrees with its philosophy.

"It's time for us as young blacks to support each other," said Beasley, who owns Big League Records, a hip-hop label across the street from HOBO.

The Days started HOBO out of the trunk of their car in 1994. When the business grew, the couple rented space in the back of a hair salon in Hyattsville. They opened the Capitol Heights boutique in 1996, and the Baltimore store opened a year ago at the corner of Franklin and Eutaw streets.

The company sells its products only at the two boutiques, and grossed more than $1 million last year, according to John Day.

The Days have spent most of their lives in retail, starting with a snowball stand when John Day was a teen-ager. He is now 36; his wife is 30.

He said people like to shop at HOBO rather than at department stores because those stores' security guards sometimes follow young black men around, thinking they might be stealing.

"At HOBO shop, we don't follow you around," he said.

Besides, he said, people like to support the underdog.

"That's us, we're the small business, the underdog," he said.

"Just like Hasim Rahman."

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