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Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out Paperback – May 5, 2015
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Author Note from Marc Ecko
I am a brand, but I am not a label. My brand is Marc Eckō. You too are a brand. Whether you know it or not. Whether you like it or not. A brand is not skin-deep. Labels are skin-deep, but a brand—a true, authentic brand—is made of blood and bones, muscle and organs. A brand has a heartbeat.
Unlabel explores the anatomy of a brand. And it uses the Authenticity Formula (1) to explain the cross sections of that anatomy. My brand started in my parents’ garage in Lakewood, New Jersey, where I spray-painted T shirts and sold them for $10 a pop. By understanding how to harness my fear (2) and separating perception from reality (3), I grew that brand to the tune of a billion-dollar retail business. I’ve built skate brands, hip-hop brands, magazine and video game brands. I’ve built brands that people literally tattoo on their bodies, which is “branding” in the truest sense. But the most important brand that I built was me, the personal brand that’s from my guts to the skin (4).
My philosophy is simple: unlabel.
Not “un” as in the nihilist or negative sense of the prefix, but in the “refuse” sense of the meaning. Refuse to be labeled.
Fight their labels.
Ignore their labels.
Peel off their labels.
Unlabel—and create your brand.
This takes work. In the same way that you do push-ups to exercise your body, you need to challenge yourself to shake free of the herd, find your own unique voice, and create your personal authentic brand.
Find your swoosh, your Apple, your Rhino.
"I've always believed that students should learn their trade from the masters--but there are times when you can't just follow what's come before. Marc Ecko designed his future while putting his own spin on history. He's fearless, and he built his brand out of his love of art and pop culture, without being seduced by nostalgia. Marc may have been inspired by Star Wars, but he made it his own – and no one has made Star Wars cooler than Ecko. His unique vision became a global force in fashion. For art and execution, this is the text book I wish I could have bought in college." (George Lucas)
“In his role as entrepreneurial guru, Ecko is a sort of anti-Trump, using human frailty instead of unattainable omnificence to educate the next generation of dreamers….A compelling how-to guide…” (Kirkus Reviews)
"It is very rare to read an entire business book from cover to cover like you would a novel, and find within it a story that is so interesting and captivating that it immediately puts perspective on how you channel your own creativity and tell your own story. Unlabel is that book. At a time when every business person and company is forced to hustle and fight to be heard in a competitive world, Unlabel is the story of a man who clawed his way out of a garage and created a multi-million dollar company in the process. It is a success story, to be sure, but it’s one that shares the bruises, scars, and painful mistakes that every entrepreneur and business owner will experience (or some variation of) on the way to becoming his or her own authentic ‘brand.’" (800-CEO-READS)
"Marc is living proof that you can be a marketing and business whiz and still be a true artist." (CNBC)
“Very, very creative. More edge than most." (Russell Simmons)
"Grand harmonic pop-culture convergence. Ecko is at a crossroads. … The man is trying to step out from behind his rhino." (The New York Times)
"[This] media mogul made millions by leveraging his ability to find the next big thing." (Business Insider)
"Ecko brings a sense of edgy wonder to his work." (Entrepreneur Magazine)
"The merging of different worlds is a recurring theme in Marc Ecko's life and in his work." (ABC Nightline)
"Marc Ecko imposes no limits on himself, or his sources of inspiration." (AskMen.com)
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Top customer reviews
What I've been able to see through Marc's eyes is invaluable. There is a real sense of history at play here that fortifies the designers focus on authenticity.
From drawing up 'Vote for Me' flyers to become the student body president in high school to the advanced maneuvers of 'velvet roping' an empty trade show booth with his brand placed elegantly atop a pedestal; there is a constant affirmation in nearly every page of the sheer value of doubling down on originality.
More than a rags to riches story, Ecko's tale is loaded with self effacing admissions of the dangerous side effects of success and lessons on how to counteract them with actual stress tested wisdom.
I've been aware of Ecko only intermittently through the mind stamping Rhino brand and I seem to recall when Getting Up, his foray into video game design came out but I'm someone who has always been suspicious of Graffiti as an art form.
Miraculously early on in the book I was educated by Marc, that what one mostly sees on the street in the form of 'graffiti' are called 'toys' - a moniker for nascent writers whose pens are cans. This seemingly minor insight clarified a confusion I have held for quite some time, namely, 'why does 98% of graffiti just look like practice?' now I know it's just a bunch of 'toys' and that graffiti, like any art, blossoms only after hours, days and potentially years of perfecting a style before you should manage Getting Up your first time. Wasn't it Voltaire who said 'one must write volumes before signing ones own name'? That idea wasn't lost on the ethos of Ecko.
Marc possesses that rare quality of a talent who knows he's got it but takes the time to get it right it in seemingly every aspect of his creative and professional life. I've read it non-stop until I decided to write this review. It reminds me of the 'innocence' of the 80's and 90's. An innocence that is, perhaps against our better judgement, present with us now. And without fail we'll look back on this time, today, in twenty years with the same reverence and nostalgia.
I mean I can hear the Beastie Boys saying "Ali Baba and the 40 thieves" in unison inside this guys garage where everything is possible as he bangs out another custom airbrush design or perfects the 100th palm frond.
I have enjoyed the read and as someone starting a new company his insights are a shot in the arm of perfect timing. I would not have found out about this book if it wasn't for his upcoming Skillshare class that I fully intend on taking. Can't wait to read the rest of where the journey takes him and what he has to say about it. Well done.
post-thought: There is some talk in the book referencing a change in the brand name from echo to ecko which I distinctly remember doing second takes on when it happened. I bring it up because there is something beautiful about the fact that Ecko (with the K) is so much more powerful and true and right for the brand than the 'original'. The philosophical underpinning of this realization in their company and also in the reader is a profound example of the power of being okay with moving forward even though you are not and cannot be sure of how the creative evolution of your business will refine itself. I found this passage and several others extremely encouraging. Just trust it.
On October 3, 2013, I was laid off from my dream job. I had created a magazine like no other in my chosen industry and it was beginning to show the signs of being successful. But a dysfunctional office culture created a situation where an insecure boss stole my brainchild as his own.
I felt exploited, as if I was used only for my innovative and creative brain. Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am. At 50 years old, I felt my career was over, and there was no way for me to achieve my life-long dreams. But Marc's book has helped me realize that is not the case, and that there is more to ME and my life than just one creation.
I'm still a "creator" and by using Marc's Authenticity Formula, I've shed the labels that were weighing me down and have discovered my brand, my authentic self.
Thanks, Marc! I just wish this book had been around when I was 20. I've already bought a copy for a friend in her own startup and I'm buying the book for each of my four 20-something children as their holiday gifts this year.
I actually never knew who Marc Ecko really was until I read this book.
This book was an entertaining look into what it took to get to where he is today.
I appreciated how he also gave a fair share of the text to the failures he experienced throughout his career.
After reading this book I gotta give the man some respect for building the brand.
If you are thinking of starting your own clothing brand or are about to start working in the fashion industry is recommend you read this play book as a prerequisite to know what it takes to make it to the top.
Road meets the pavement here.