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By the time Dwyane Wade turned 27, he had already led Marquette to an NCAA Final Four, won an NBA Championship with the Miami Heat and helped Team USA to a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. He has been good at basketball, is good at basketball and will continue to be good at basketball.
Thus ends the basketball talk in this piece.
Because even in an era of specialization and stick-to-sports takes, Wade has built a brand outside of basketball as an investor and fashion designer. More than just shoes (though he does have a shoe contract with Chinese company Ni-Ling), Wade has designed high-fashion looks for Dsquared2, made ties for the Tie Bar and invested in STANCE socks. He has major deals with Gatorade and Amazon. He’s written a bestselling book and sold a television show to FOX. And, while Wade might not have enjoyed so many opportunities if not for his basketball success, there’s no denying that he’s made the most of his brand.
Even in a digital world where we check for Twitter updates every five minutes, the guy whom Shaquille O’Neal once dubbed “Flash” has been just the opposite. Over the course of a decade, Wade has slowly been building the foundations for what he hopes will one day become a business empire. He chatted with Entrepreneur to explain his vision.
In 2012, you took a chance when you left the Jordan brand for Ni-Ling, a relative unknown in American basketball circles. What does it take to leave something established and try something new? What are some challenges you didn’t expect?
I think you do want to be associated with those established brands. Like, I was associated with the Nike family [through Jordan], and you learn from them. I’ve been associated with brands that have longevity. Like Gatorade — I’ve been associated with Gatorade for a long time.
Early in my career, I associated myself with all of those kinds of brands. Then, when I got to the point where I felt that I’d learned and wanted to try something new, have more control or do something different — that’s when I’ve stepped out and decided to do something like the Li-Ning deal. That’s challenging — especially because it’s China and it’s a totally different market.
But that’s what makes you want to do it. If it was easy, you wouldn’t want to do it. But because you know it’s going to be a little challenging, it’s sweeter when you put the work in and build something.
Talking about challenges or building something, it seems like you rarely do the same thing twice. You have activewear with Mission. Watches with Hublot. Ties with the Tie Bar. But, you do the thing and then it’s like —
Exactly. And that’s not by accident.
What we’ve been doing is building a brand that’s as authentic as possible. So, except Li-Ning and Dsquared2, everything we sell is accessories.
It’s really building from the ground up. The ultimate goal is that one day, someone like Tom Ford is not just wearing your clothes. You want to see people using your cologne, using your Kindles — to build a legacy like that.
Right now, we’re taking steps. We’re learning. We’re getting our feet wet with the fashion industry and getting our name out there.
When you’re meeting these established brands, how do you build that connection? Do you love the brand first, then meet the people behind it or vice versa?
Well, I think it varies, because you definitely want it to feel authentic, right? So you want to like it [the brand or product], you want to enjoy it and you want to feel good about talking about it. So you want it to be authentic first.
But sometimes you have a brand that’s interested in you, and you might not even have heard of that brand. So, you do your research. Or seek out something that’s going on in the world that you want to be a part of. There are many different ways, but the best way for us is always to be authentic.
What’s an example of a time you were surprised by a brand or partner?
When I signed with Tie Bar, ties weren’t — you know how it goes in and out, like, depending on style, right? In my fan base or market, ties were not the thing. So when they approached us to be a part of that, I thought, “Well, I’m not really wearing a lot of ties.” But then, it became, “Let’s just go take a meeting and see what they have to say,” and it built from there.
Eventually, I just wanted to be a part of the Tie Bar. I love what they’re doing, and I love how I feel when I wear a tie. And things in fashion come back around.
That’s a Chicago company, too, right?
Image Credit: Amazon
That makes sense, then. How about your relationship with Dsquared2? I read somewhere that you said you were the third brother [with Dean and Dan Caten].
So I became a fan of Dsquared2 in 2011 when I went to their fashion show in Milan. Big fashion show in Milan, and I just loved their show. It was different. They had all these dancers and stuff. So I went back and met them.
From there, we built the relationship to the point that when they come to Miami, they come to my house and eat. And, that [line about being the third brother] was something I threw out to them: “You know, I’m a D, you guys are D’s — it’d be cool if I was like the third brother.” Just joking with them. But, that joke has turned into our collection together, and it’s the first one I’ve done in that capacity.
[Magic Johnson] said, ‘If you’re ever thinking about something — if you’re on a plane or doing something — write it down, and send it to your team. You have a great team, so allow them to do their work. But, it has to be something that you want to do.’
I definitely learned a lot. Hopefully, I’ll look to continue — whether it’s with Dsquared2 or with other brands — to do other things like that to learn.
One big challenge for our readers is branding. They need a brand to start their business, but don’t necessarily have one yet. Is there something that stood out to you in particular in one of those meetings that made you want to take a chance on something new? Or something you said that really stood out to someone else?
Well, I always go back to a meeting I had with Magic Johnson.
That’s a pretty good guy to go back to.
I reached out to Magic, and he was gracious enough to meet a few times with me and my team in LA. He said, “If you’re ever thinking about something — if you’re on a plane or doing something — write it down, and send it to your team. You have a great team, so allow them to do their work. But it has to be something that you want to do.”
I remember after that meeting, my mind is racing, and I’m thinking, “Ooh, I’d like to do this or I’d like to do that.” I think my business manager still has the email I sent her — like 13 things. I might not have done them all that year, but over a certain period of time, you can see that things have happened.
Just sitting there with Magic, someone who’s been very successful, and listening to him tell me how he did it. It was simple, yet hard.
But it had to come from me. Once I was able to express to my team the things I want to do, they were able to go out and find or partner me with the right people.
Is that what you do when you’re designing? You go to a fashion show or get inspired and see something that you need to write down and send it off? Because some of your designs are pretty involved. You had a pair of socks that was camouflage up top and ended with stripes at the toes. How do you come up with something like that?
Because basketball is my main job, but I also want to do fashion, I need a creative team. That’s why I’ve put people around me who I trust and who are talented enough to help me accomplish what I want to. We work together. I come up with my ideas, she comes up with her ideas, and we put it together.
I could be looking at this [flower arrangement], and think, “I like that.” And I’ll take a photo. I’ll see something like that [painting on the wall featuring red and black stripes], and I’ll take a photo. I’m putting together a sock. The top could look like that [flower], and the bottom could look like that [stripes]. You just see things that you like.
Then, my team will come back to me and they will have their style inspirations, and we’ll mesh it together. We figure out what we want to get across with those decisions — what story we want to tell.
And if I found this stuff in China or wherever, then that works too. One time, we did a China-themed sock. It was stuff we had that we got just from traveling through China. Or sometimes we reach out to the brand to see what’s selling, what people are looking for. It’s all a collaboration.
You just talked about China. With your shoe line and wine company [Wade Cellars, which is sold primarily in China], it seems like that’s been a business priority for you.
Yeah, definitely with the wine. The market is just so big. Obviously, I have a good brand over there, especially aligning myself with Li-Ning and building a relationship. It’s been pretty cool to build that brand to the point where I now have 10 Wade stores in China. I have a good thing going over there, so I might as well continue to build. They look at me as one of their own because I spend so much time there, and I’m with their home brand.
But I still do my things in the States. It’s about trying to do both and figuring out how to be successful in both markets.
Did your relationship with Ni-Ling start in ‘08? It was incredible to watch Ni Ling [a retired Chinese gymnastics legend] at the Chinese Olympics —
Yeah, he did the torch.
That was crazy.
I didn’t start with them until 2012. I think I was with Converse at the time, about to switch over to Jordan. After the Olympics, I was switching over to Jordan, and that might have been the last time I wore Converse. Then I was with Jordan for three years before switching over to Li-Ning in 2012.
So after that is when I switched over. I didn’t even think about it. I remember seeing Mr. Li Ning, but I don’t remember thinking, “Oh, maybe one day.”
I wondered whether you met him then and built a relationship off of that.
No. No, they’d seen me from afar. They liked my brand and what I was about and wanted to be a part of the brand. It went from there.
Talking about different markets, you’ve got Chinese shoes, Swiss watches and local deals in Miami and Chicago. You’re also one of the first athletes to get an Amazon bundle, where they’ve put several of your products in one place. At the same time, Amazon’s paying $50 million to stream NFL games. How do you see the future of Amazon and online business?
Well, that’s the good thing about it — I think I met with them for the first time last summer, and I never thought we’d be where we are today. Obviously, they’re a big juggernaut right now, and when I got word that they wanted to do things with us, it was so cool.
To sit here and say, “Dang, I got my own store on Amazon,” just proves you never know what is next. So my whole thing is to keep building a relationship, see what’s working and what you can learn from it, and move forward from there. But Amazon — they’re amazing. You know, in this world today where everything has gone to commerce online, they are the big players.
To have what we always wanted — a one-stop shop for the Wade brand, because we have so many things all over the place — is kind of cool, and to have the juggernauts in bed with it. So hopefully we continue to grow and learn from it about what we can do and do better to see if we can do more.
Is there anything in particular you’ve learned from Amazon so far?
Not yet. We just launched everything, so now, we need to continue to get to know what’s working and understand, “This is why they did this.” As a team, we will learn. We’re always willing to learn and to listen.
To sit here and say, ‘Dang, I got my own store on Amazon,’ just proves you never know what is next.
I’m sure a lot of your focus must be on this deal, but is there anything going forward that excites you right now? Something you’re excited to do next?
Yeah, I’m focused on this, but you always need to have your ear and your mind open to the possibilities. My one thing — I try not to get too far ahead, because if we do one thing right, then more things will come.
I mean, we started with just one thing, and now we have a lot of things.
You just never know what will happen. For example, if you take a look at Mission. I signed with Mission in 2009, and now Mission is one of the leaders [among my investments]. Obviously, Stance socks is doing well, but in activewear, Mission is killing it. So you just never know, with the brands you’re with, which is going to make the jump or take your focus.
So, I want to focus on my current projects, but also always be aware of what’s going on.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Rubenstein PR
Is there anyone you look to right now and say, “He’s doing something that’s true to his brand that I really admire?”
Oh, I look at a lot of people. Just going to the sports world, I look at LeBron [James]. Look at [David] Beckham. Looking at those guys — and obviously [Michael] Jordan and Magic — but looking at what they have built for themselves is incredible.
Everyone has their own way of doing it. My way is different from theirs, and I think I’ve done a good job and have the potential to build and do more. But definitely a lot of people out there that are doing great things.
A lot of people think you can’t always stay true to yourself and simultaneously self-promote to grow your brand. It seems like those guys have done that. How have you emphasized this? It seems like you have always focused on having creative control.
Yeah, and you do want to align yourself with people who are established and doing great, but also you do the things that you want to do. Especially, if you have success. Like with Stance. We’ve definitely had success with Stance.
When you have success with a brand, you make other brands interested. They think, “OK, he’s been successful and he’s done it this way,” so … success really helps everything.
Let’s switch gears: You just finished your season. Now you’re in New York. You just got your Amazon page up and running. You released the Dsquared2 line earlier this spring. When do you ever get any rest?
Do you really feel that way? Our entrepreneurs always say, “You’re never going to be able to sleep again when you start a business.” Has that been true for you?
I mean, obviously I enjoy my life, too. But you know what I try to do? I try to plan fun around business. Like, I’m going to Europe soon for Fashion Week. Fashion Week’s in Milan, Paris, whatever, right? But I’m planning my trip around it. I’m planning to take my son and my wife and do certain things.
Normally, when I work out before my day starts, I have a better day. It puts me in a better mood, I feel like I’ve already accomplished something, and I have a better day.
I want to be successful with business, but I also have my regular life that I need to be good at, so, I definitely need to figure it out and schedule it very wisely.
So, that’s your rest? Saying, “I’m here for business, but I’m going to do something fun for me while I’m at it.”
Yeah, because even when I get a couple of days to rest, I just want to do something. Give me a day to get away — maybe a couple days, but then I want to do something.
Is there anything you do in the mornings that gets you mentally and physically ready, whether you have a game to go to or a business meeting?
To get me ready? Work out.
When I work out — I didn’t work out this morning because I had a photo shoot. We were out late last night and I had to get up this morning, so I couldn’t work out. But normally, when I work out before my day starts, I have a better day. It puts me in a better mood, I feel like I’ve already accomplished something, and I have a better day. Normally.
Related: 11 Habits of Truly Happy People
So for me, I clear my mind when I’m in the gym, clear my mind when I work hard, but I feel better about myself, my body and my mind is in the right place.
It seems like every successful business owner says, “You need to wake up and work out in the morning.” I read their tips and say to myself, “I’ve got to do it!” And then I go home and I forget.[Laughs.] “Forget.”
“Forget,” yeah. I need to get better about that. We talked about how you like to jump around with these opportunities, constantly going from an amateur to an expert.
Then jumping back into being an amateur again.
What have you learned that has helped you make that leap, though? Going from an amateur to a pro? Because you’ve been pretty successful at it.
I don’t know, man. You just try to align yourself with good people.
It’s all about the team.
It’s all about the team, but it starts with you. It starts with you being the type of person that you want to be aligned with. I feel like I’m a good person. I’m a hard worker, etc. I want to be aligned with those kind of people, because that’s what’s going to make success.
Especially when it’s your name and your brand. You have to be that type of leader.