Joseph Mbeh Steps Into The “Fourfront”
Born in Cameroon and traveling to the U.S. with his family to start a new life at 10, Mbeh’s journey then took him from Maryland to New York City, where he studied sculpting and painting at the prestigious School of Art at Cooper Union. His creative vision eventually lead him to co-creating Fourfront, one of DrJays.com’s burgeoning new brands. With props to HarlemsFashionRow.com, here’s the inspiring inside scoop on Mbeh and his vision for the company, plans for the future and more:
Tell me about your start in the industry?
“My start in the industry is very funny. Fashion found me. I’ve been an artist for a long time. While in high school, my next-door neighbor asked me to do some sketches and I did. He used the sketches for t-shirts and did really well with them. I was 17 then. I was working at a camp at the time and the camp director was a big fan of my art. I told my camp director that I was selling my sketches for $100 and the camp director almost demanded that I start my own company. I went home and told my mom that I wanted to start my own t-shirt line. She asked if I was sure, gave me 5,000 dollars to start the business, and I blew it right away. I just didn’t have the experience.”
So, how did you get back into fashion?
“I didn’t know what I was going to do after college. While I was in college, I would print t-shirts in New York, hop on the bus to Atlanta, and sell t-shirts. Atlanta had a tradeshow that was open to new brands. I bought a booth at the tradeshow and talked to everyone that passed by my booth. I built clientele there and met great contacts that eventually introduced me to Phat Farm.”
So, how did you start your design company?
“I got a position working at Phat Farm for David Saulters. Kevin Leong and David told me there was a show that happened every 6 months in Vegas, the Magic show. I was like how am I going to get there. I asked the company to pay for me to go and they said no. I was making 7 dollars an hour. I saved my money and I was there. I would sleep on the floor of the execs in the companies because I couldn’t afford a hotel. Every time I would go, I would pitch my designs to different companies. Before you know it, I was building my clientele.”
How did you meet your business partner Raymond Wong?
“I was having a conversation about label costs and Ray overheard me. He attended Cooper Union as well. I was told that the labels would cost me $1,500 and I couldn’t believe it was that expensive. Ray said to me, yo I know where you can get them printed for like $200. I was like really. We met after work and he took me to a place to get them printed. During that walk, he’s like yo we should start our own business. All of these designs out here are whack. He said to me if you’re serious, I’ll quit my job and he was making like $60,000 a year. He told me that if I had $5,000, he would put in 5,000 as well and we would be in business. I worked until I got my $5,000 and I went to Ray on a Friday. He quit his job on that Monday and we started our design business.”
So, how did Fourfront come about?
“I had a clothing line before selling to 130 stores, but something wasn’t right. We were very urban and I knew the market was changing. Also, I had a salesman at the time that said to me, “the stores are asking me what makes us unique?” That question haunted me. Like I said, at the time urban wear was about to die. I pulled the plug on the line with 130 stores because I could see what was about to happen. I didn’t want to be another Phat Farm or Fubu. I took a 3-year hiatus. I told myself I wouldn’t come out with another line unless I had a reason to and I found the reason with Fourfront.”
What has been your biggest challenge on this journey?
“Letting something go that was working and being financially handicapped. I lost a house because the business required so much money. I was taking the equity from my homes to finance my business.”
What makes Fourfront special?
“Well, I’ve perfected the Gileko – a t-shirt/vest look, but it’s all one piece. It’s something special and fresh. I mastered it last year. Every factory said no, it was too complicated, but we made it work.”
Who is the Fourfront guy?
“That guy is willing to do whatever it takes to move his life forward, that he thrives in difficult situations, think outside the box, and make it happen no matter what.”