Benjamen Janey, the 30-year-old entrepreneur and CEO of HD-LV USA says he wants to impact global pop culture in ways that have never been done before. “A young black entrepreneur opening up in a mall; if that story gets out there, it will have an impact—even if it's just inspiration for others.”
Consider the story out. Benjamen opened HD-LV USA (which stands for “Highly Distinguished - Liquid Value”) at the Westfield Culver City mall in October of 2013 to much fanfare and success. Benjamen has made a huge splash on the fashion scene with his products and his presence. He recently graced the red carpet at fashion designer Sue Wong’s "Jazz Babies" Spring 2014 Collection Review at the Cicada Club in Downtown Los Angeles.
Benjamen started his custom-design hat company on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, and soon grew it to a featured line at a local Venice Beach boutique. The HD-LV storefront is only the next phase of growth for this unique, growing, and innovative fashion company.
“I'm in the process of raising the capital to open another one next year. In my opinion I think fast growth is important. I think we hit the market at a right time and we have to capitalize fast. It's not the big eating the small, it's the fast eating the slow. So that's gonna be the approach.”
While Benjamen’s marketing strategy involves the young, rich, and fashionable, the pricing of the custom-designed hats are not outside the realm of possibility for the average Joe, with custom hats in the same price range as stores like Lids.
“One cool thing about the brand is that it's for everybody. In terms of the price point, we're talking $40 dollars and up. Like a snapback, or a licensed NFL hat are $40-50 dollars. So that approach has helped us to penetrate the market, but affordable relatively speaking.”
Benjamen attributes his late aunt in helping him achieve this current success. The aunt facilitated his move to Los Angeles, helped him with a place to stay while he got set up, and most pivotal, took him to the Westfield Culver City mall.
“My aunt brought me to that mall, and I thought yeah, I think I might open up here. That was like four or five years ago.”
The mall’s location, between Southwest Los Angeles and the Los Angeles International Airport, is a high traffic stop with over one million people walking through the doors on average, each month. “You get traffic from Marina del Rey, Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Inglewood, more urban areas as well. I was selling a lot on Venice Beach, it's about three to four miles from there, so I thought it would be a good location to get a start.”
Quite a rise for a business that got its start with a table and some blank caps. Thanks again to the influence of his aunt, Benjamen saw the potential resident in starting out at the Venice Beach boardwalk. “I just saw, this is where I need to start—you get like millions of tourists every single year.”
With Benjamen’s artistry and charisma, he began to draw a crowd. “I bought some blank caps, put 'em out on the table, and people would naturally start saying, ‘Hey, can you do this?’ ‘Can you put my name on there?’ ‘Can you put this character on there?’ The funny thing is, I taught myself how to do that—it's nothing that I ever did before. So it was almost like the need for me to make money forced me to learn a new skill. I did that, and it worked.”
Benjamen has a particular gift for recognizing money-making opportunities, starting with a business venture with his brother nine years ago. “I ended up leaving school to start a music business at 21. My brother and I, we had a record label called Holla! Records in New York. We signed local artists from Harlem and Boston, and we distributed mixed tapes to about 12 different states—back when you could really sell albums.”
Benjamen’s hard work with this company made him a millionaire when most of his peers were still in college. “I think in the music business you have to have tenacity, and you have to be really aggressive, and that's helped me too. You're 21 years old, you have like nine artists signed with you, you're making money, you have a studio, you have a house—so you can imagine that's a pretty intense lifestyle. So I learned a lot, and I think those experiences really help me now.”
However, it’s not all about Benjamen, or even “the Benjamins”; this leading-edge entrepreneur desires to use his platform in a socially-conscious manner. “It's not just money, but having that impact is something that gets me up in the morning.”
Helping to cure cancer is one of those areas of impact. “We are working on a project right now with Sesame Street, where a percentage of each sale from a particular cap collection that we're going to design is going to go back to a cancer research program in Boston that actually sponsors students at Harvard and BU who are pursuing cancer research. So that's pretty exciting.”
Benjamen has other exciting changes in the works for the HD-LV storefronts, so he can keep the concept unique and fresh. “We want to add on value to what already exists, so we can find new ways to market it, we can expand on the product. One idea we're working on, we don't have it in place yet, is having an artist actually there to design hats for people. So you would walk in, and there would be a chair just like when you go to a barber shop or salon. You sit down in the chair, and there's a designer who is designing the hat while it's actually on your head. So you are getting catered and styled in person.”
In this month of Black Heritage, we celebrate the achievements of African-American people and look to their example to inspire and encourage current and future generations. Benjamen Janey’s example of smarts, innovation, hard work, and perseverance is a model of success that can be gleaned from and replicated.
Benjamen shared this advice for the younger generation: “One thing I would definitely advise is when you get opportunities, take 'em. Even if it doesn't turn out the way you want, it's going to be a learning experience, and it's going to take you a step closer to where you want to be.
“You have to be a people person—you've got to love people, you've got to talk to people. And you have to pay your dues. Sometimes it can come quick, but don't be discouraged if you have to get hit a couple of times. When you get into the ring, you're gonna get hit. This is the game; be prepared.”
Sage advice from an old soul in a young man’s body.