J. Crew Going Public Once Again?

J. Crew, a brand that is one of Michelle Obama’s favorites, a brand that is defined by utility; contemporary style and an essence of preppiness has been rumored to be in talks with financial giants, such as Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, to refinance their debt and possibly become a publicly traded company, once again.  Just several years ago, J. Crew went private in a $3 billion deal with investment partners, TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners.  The reason being for such a departure from the trading floor was a decrease in sales.  During that year’s third quarter, net income had fallen by 14% due to weaker women’s clothing sales (J. Crew must certainly be grateful for our First Lady’s endorsement).  Moreover, stores that were open for at least one year saw their revenue fall by 1%.  In terms of the financial sector of the retail industry, J. Crew has been inconsistent; perhaps this is due to the constant shuffling of chairs in the New York based offices.

However, with the revitalization of J. Crew by CEO Millard Drexler and President Jenna Lyons, we are seeing an increase in sales and popularity.  Sales last year rose 9%, which was more than publicly traded brands, like Gap and Ralph Lauren.  I believe more time is necessary to see the true growth of J. Crew, but if it were to go public, the company would look to mirror the successes of similar brands that are ruling pop culture, such as Michael Kors (trading at $98) and Vince, a newcomer to the public market in 2013 seeing its stock rise 43% in its debut.

Further indicators of a public offering shall be debated with news surfacing about Japan based Fast Retailing Company’s Tadashi Yanai (chairman, president and CEO) wanting to acquire the J. Crew brand.  This would align Uniqlo, one of Japan’s largest clothing purveyors and one of my personal favorite shops, and J. Crew under one umbrella, making it an immediate giant in the fashion industry.  The $5 billion deal would enable the ambitious Yanai to attract more customers in the U.S. market to the rapidly expanding Uniqlo stores.  As J. Crew weighs the option of an IPO, stay tuned for more news on this potential acquisition.

As a prospective investor, pay attention to companies such as these, as their audience is global and quickly growing.  I’m certainly a novice when it comes to the financial sector, but I would suggest to invest in what you know.  Why would you financially concern yourself with corporations that you yourself are not personally involved with?  I love clothing.  J. Crew is a staple in my wardrobe and when I walk around my campus I can see its increased popularity.  If I were to invest in such a company, I wouldn’t just monitor its daily position in the market.  Since J. Crew is a part of my wardrobe, because I like to shop there and because the college style is very much catered to the J. Crew look, I would be able to observe my investment in a much more profound way.  Much like the clothing brands I mentioned above, J. Crew is a chic, urban brand while remaining relatively affordable for their followers.  I find this especially important for the college crowd, which is why J. Crew’s audience has room to expand.  Whether J. Crew is actually seeking to release an initial public offering remains to be seen.  The company may not even be a suitable long-term investment option, but for new, young investors and short-term stock options, J. Crew may be viable.

Maxwell

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Lammily: Challenging the Perception of Beauty

Societies’ perception of beauty is completely based on a false reality that is perpetuated by television, the fashion industry, and even the dolls our children play with today.  The debate over this issue, this craze, has long been discussed; however, little has changed.  Each year we can count on watching “Angels” seductively walk down a runway which promotes borderline unhealthy physiques that women all across the world painstakingly try to achieve.  Every time we walk into a toy store we can count on seeing the iconic Barbie doll, an idealized, yet implausibly, shaped blonde figurine which millions of girls and boys have grown up with. Nickolay Lamm, creator of Lammily , has finally challenged these surreal desires.

Lamm, a Pittsburgh based artist and researcher, has begged the question: What if fashion dolls were made using standard human body proportions?  Provided by the CDC, Lamm has used the average body measurements of a nineteen year old women to generate a 3D digital prototype of a doll he hopes to produce.

Just two days ago, Lamm used Crowdtilt to garner crowd-sourced funding for his venture.  His target amount to cover the costs of manufacturing was $95,000.  Today, he has succeeded this goal by over $100,000 with twenty-nine days left in the first round of financing.

Lamm has been lauded for his previous work by Buzzfeed, Business Insider, Huffington Post, and many more news outlets.  The USA Today featured Lammily just yesterday.  Lamm’s ability to ask the unthought of questions and then visualize the answers in artistic renderings is the reason why Lammily is so innovative.  In our terms, Lamm is an entrepreneur.  A clear void in the fashion doll market was apparent and he has created a way to effectively exploit it.

I would also like to comment on his use of crowd-funding, a brilliant idea in my opinion.  Rather than trying to meet with investors to back his project, which we know can often lead to failure, he opened Lammily up to the public for support.  This suggests (A) his confidence and the market potential for the fashion doll, and (B) his understanding of the intended retail audience.  I do not think crowd-sourcing works for every entrepreneur, as it is necessary that your product receives the proper amount of attention for such a decision to pay off.  With that being said though, I believe this way of financing is an under-utilized option within the entrepreneurial community.

Nickolay Lamm and Lammily are prime examples of why entrepreneurs and innovation are integral parts of our society.  Lammily challenges a convention that, frankly, is unattainable while creating a new socially progressive alternative.  This is what pushes boundaries.  This is how new paradigms are created.  Congratulations on a wonderfully thought out product.

Maxwell

The College Budget: Tips to a Healthy Wallet

High school seniors (I, too, came down with the self-diagnosed ‘senioritis’) and you college freshmen who think you’ve got a grip on the whole college experience after several months of your new found freedom, keep reading.  This is the Young Economics guide to making sure you don’t break the bank (or mommy and daddy’s) buying booze for the lovely sorority ladies down the hall from your dorm room.

I go to The George Washington University, a city school, so its no secret that the temptations for me to spend money everyday on shopping at the local Nike store, eating at delicious restaurants, and traveling by cab  are all too real.  When I first arrived on campus, I gave in to these temptations.  I had a new found freedom, a fat wallet due to my summer job, and an irresistible impulse to walk just a few short blocks to one of America’s most luxurious shopping centers, Georgetown.  I controlled myself, a little bit, but if I knew what I know now, my urges would have definitely been tamed.  Trust me, I know how you college students in New York City feel, although I’m sure your wallet might be hurting a bit more than mine considering how expensive the costs of living are in the Concrete Jungle.  Like me, I bet you could’ve used some tips to help combat the lust of the city.

1. At the beginning of the year, suffer through it, ACCOUNT for all of your SPENDING BIG and SMALL.  After a couple of months, you’ll be able to know exactly how much you spend per month.  Also, depending on this and your level of discretionary income, you’ll be able to craft a budget and refine it as necessary.

2. If you feel as though you want/need more money, GET A JOB!  Other than making that one and only call home to mom and dad, this is honestly the fastest and most reliable way to acquire the cream.  I feel like people dread the process of actually finding a job, but in actuality colleges are creating much easier ways to help you find one.  Check your college’s career website, they most likely have a job postings tab.  If you received a Federal Work Study grant, all the less stressful and time consuming.  If both of these options are a no-go, ask around.  I’m sure the local coffee shops, restaurants or retail stores are hiring…they usually do at the beginning of the school year.

3. SIDE HUSTLING is a thing!  Find a way to make your childhood hobby into a money-maker.  I’ve seen people take their love of graphic design to designing posters for certain events and organizations around campus, I’ve heard of students offering to take other students’ trash out after late Friday and Saturday nights (you’ll know what I’m talking about), and I personally cut hair.  This was easily one of the best decisions I’ve made my first year here.  I charge $5 a cut (I’m not a professional, why charge like one?), I’m 50+ haircuts into the venture and it funded my Christmas purchases.

4. GET A CREDIT CARD.  This tip may seem unrealistic for folks, but its really not and it can help your prosperity ten-fold in the future.  Plenty of credit card companies offer special deals to new prospective students (if you received financial aid, you’re probably receiving mail from these companies now) and since you don’t have a credit score, it is quite easy to apply for one.  You may pay the bill each month or your lovely parents may take care of it, but discretion is a must.  You do not want to get carried away with your spending right off the bat.  Having a credit card and paying the bills ON TIME establishes a good credit score, so when you graduate and its time to buy a car or maybe even a house, your bank will be able to see you have a long standing history of paying off your debt in a timely fashion.

5. SAVE.  Maybe you don’t go out to eat tonight or maybe you choose to go shopping when your parents come to visit in the spring, decisions like these could be the difference between having $500 in your bank account or $1000.  Which would you rather have?

I understand, college is a time where you have all the freedom in the world and no responsibilities, but if you become disciplined with your finances now, you’ll be rewarded in the long-run.

Maxwell

Quick Digestibles: Rival and Excludable Goods

Welcome back to another installment of Young Economics.  Today, I break down the differences between rivalrous and excludable goods with perhaps the savior of online education, Khan Academy.

Rivalry occurs in an economy when one person’s consumption of one unit of a good or service means no one else is able to consume it. Contrastingly, nonrival suggests that one person’s consumption of a good does not interfere with another’s consumption.

Excludability is defined as the inability to a consume a good so long as it is not paid for.  Therefore, a nonexcludable good constitutes as something that is consumed whether the good is paid for, as it is impossible to be prevented.

There are many scenarios in which a good may be any combination of both rival and excludable, rival and non excludable, non rival and non excludable, etc.  For example, private goods, such as my Oreos, which I refuse to share with anyone, are both rival and excludable.  My consumption of America’s favorite cookie directly inhibits my roommate or brother from coming along and trying to consume my delectable cookies.  Moreover, there is no legal way for me to eat Oreos unless I pay for them…I wonder how much money I spend a year on this Kryptonite.  Other private goods include, clothing (attention sneakerheads), haircuts, and even the laundry at college.

Then there are public goods, or non rival and non excludable goods, enter Khan Academy.  In a lot of cases, public goods are supplied by the government, like national defense and public schooling, but in this situation a public good, such as education, is being supplied by the super teacher, Salman Khan.  Khan Academy is a non-profit educational website that was created to provide “a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”  My use of Khan Academy on their website or on YouTube, while I’m cramming for finals has no baring on the eighth grader in Texas trying to learn pre-Algebra.  You see, Khan Academy is so innovative and revolutionary because it has completely altered the perception of public education.  We all know that the public educational system in the United States needs reform, but with this website everyone of all ages can receive a free, world-class education without even leaving their home.  I guess that’s why Google and the Gates Foundation have each donated over $1 million dollars to the organization.  Avail yourself to the website , don’t you have some studying to do?

Maxwell

WTF is a Bitcoin?

Over the past several months, following the discovery of Silk Road, I’ve been hearing a lot about Bitcoins, the online cryptocurrency.  For those of you who don’t know what Silk Road is, long story short, an inconspicuous man named, Ross William Ulbricht, was arrested by the FBI in early October for allegedly running an illegal online marketplace which housed everything from hitmen to illegal drugs.  According to reports, the marketplace is responsible for over $28 million in consumer transactions, the catch though, it’s all anonymous.  If you are interested in this former underground cyber network, I encourage you to check out this synopsis by USA Today .

Having been a pretty obscure and widespread news story, I feel as though a lot of people, including myself, don’t exactly know what a Bitcoin is.  I did some research so I could make this digestible post for you all.

A Bitcoin is not physical currency.  It was created in 2009 by pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto, as an online and anonymous currency.  It is not monitored or controlled by any federal entities, like the US Federal Reserve or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which means money invested in Bitcoin is at risk of being lost pending any major crashes in the volatile market.

Since Bitcoins are only online, they are created or found, through a process called “mining” in which computer users attempt to solve mathematical algorithms related to the current number of Bitcoins.  The actual number of Bitcoins to be in circulation is fixed.  The Bitcoin Foundation claims that there can only be 21 million Bitcoins at a time; in circulation right now are about 12.3 million.  Don’t take this post and run with this whole idea of mining for Bitcoins, though.  The process takes up a large amount of space on a computer and special programs are utilized to complete the mining.

Currently, Bitcoin is a legal monetary system. It is a viable alternative for some because of its privacy, much like cash, and because it is unregulated by the government, those cynics and independent ‘stick-it-to-the-man’ hipster types can truly be autonomous with their finances.

CoinYe
Kanye West inspired Bitcoin

Right now, Bitcoin is hot.  Just last month a new Bitcoin company created their form of crypto-currency around rapper, Kanye West, calling it CoinYe.  Unfortunately, due to an ensuing legal battle with the rapper, Coinye has abandoned their project.  As a bullish investor or as someone who is looking for a ‘get rich quick’ scheme, I can see the allure of Bitcoin.  According to BlockChain , the market for Bitcoins was soaring over $900 USD until it took a tumble to a little over $500 earlier this month.  These fluctuations are not unfamiliar in this market.  You can see the graph how many spikes and dips occurred over the past couple of months.  For now, Bitcoin is a mysterious novelty that continues to grow in popularity and infamy each and every day.  As a young and prospective investor myself, I am wary of its volatility.  Perhaps one day it can become a stable and consistently profitable market.

Maxwell

Dare to Dream

Unemployment fell to 6.7% in December from 7% in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This was an unexpected drop since the current model anticipated unemployment to remain steady around 7%.  This major (I’m considering .3% to be major when you think about the thousands of people who are now employed) reduction created roughly 74,000 new jobs; however, it is still below the 200,000 mark which economists had forecasted for this period.

On the other hand, Gallup Inc. has measured the current employment rate at 42.9% with their simplified Payroll-to-Population statistic, which measures the unemployment rate as a percent of adults in full-time jobs as a percentage of the total U.S. adult population.   This number dropped from November’s percentage of 43.7%, making it the lowest number Gallup has measured since March of 2011.

Is this cause for concern?  According to the Bureau, the improvement is good, but I feel as though our nation is lacking something, some je ne sais quoi, to propel our industries and businesses further.  We owe it to the millions of people who have stopped searching for jobs, to keep pushing for economic development.  Do you know what people all across the United States are concerned about?  According to Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup Inc., its having a good job.

About three weeks ago, the freshmen in The George Washington University School of Business’s First Year Development Program had the opportunity to listen to Mr. Clifton speak about the importance of entrepreneurship.  According to his blog post, which he posted the following day, 400,000 small businesses and start-ups are being created annually, while 470,000 are failing annually.  Up until 2008, start-ups outpaced business failures by about 100,000 per year, but within the past six years that number has turned negative.  Due to the volatile market and foggy future of businesses, I think entrepreneurs are wary and more reluctant than ever to try their hand at owning their own businesses.  This is unfortunate because 50% of all jobs are in the small business sector, and according to the Small Business Administration, 65% of all new good jobs are created by them.

Despite these disappointing statistics, I would agree with Mr. Clifton in that now is the time to be taking chances on small businesses.  President Obama in his State of the Union address said, “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.”  While I agree with this sentiment, what’s innovation without a sound business plan and business leader?

This is where entrepreneurs and business students come in to play; we need you.  The United States needs not only the Steve Wozniaks, but the Steve Jobs of the world to take innovative ideas and sculpt strong strategies and team members around them, so that they can be successfully integrated into our households.  And moreover, this will push our bounds as a society and also serve as a catalyst for our economic activity to spark employment growth.  Business is no longer purely about the bottom-line, this is how entrepreneurs and students can directly affect the wellbeing of others.

My message to you young and talented business hopefuls: do not be afraid to imagine.  Think about how many silly ideas you had as a child.  I remember one specific, crazy invention that I had when I was little, it was called the Triple Tasker.  What was made out of cardboard was a contraption (really just three square openings) that would allow the user to carry three different items in one awkward, compartmentalized big box.  While this was clearly not a practical idea, I wasn’t afraid to let my mind wander and think of obscure things.  Dream big.  If you want to create the next Nike, set out and do it.  Create a strategy, go to school, gather the proper people to help you and keep fighting for your goals.  It is you people who are creative and have a strong passion for turning products and services into money machines that will propel our economy to a $17 trillion GDP to a $30 trillion GDP.

To the policy makers and current business leaders: help our young entrepreneurs and business leaders accomplish their goals.  Target these young hopefuls early and develop their strengths and skills at an early age so that their potential can be maximized.  I implore you, for our future and economic health is dependent on the youth who dream and learn the biggest.

Maxwell

Jay Z: Maturity

Albeit a somewhat disappointing evening for the fans of Roc Nation and Jay Z, as Hova came away with one Grammy, we did get to see the music industry’s most powerful couple show us how to truly rock a stage…so I guess it wasn’t all that bad.

Congratulations to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for their album, The Heist, winning Rap Album of the Year.  Jay Z still has the most platinum albums out of any solo artist to ever perform, yes, more than Elvis, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Ben Haggerty (AKA Macklemore).

I digress, without further adieu, I present to you the final part of my research behind hip hop’s biggest brand: the maturation of Shawn Carter.

At the point of maturity, a veteran firm has achieved a certain amount of name recognition, their sales require less effort, the business produces a reliable stream of cash, and intensive marketing or redevelopment may be needed to increase or maintain market position.  Picture Jay Z as a mature firm.  He is no longer an artist trying to find his place in the industry, but rather a mogul who runs his own record label (Roc Nation) and has the most albums to go platinum as a solo artist.  It is safe to say that he has attained such a position where not much he does is considered a failure.  With that being said though, how does he maintain his level of success as his career progresses?  Enter, Beyoncé.

“In terms of the entertainment industry, it’s the biggest merger you could possibly imagine,” (Bloomberg, 188).  In 2008, Jay Z and mega-star in her own right, Beyoncé Knowles, were married.  On a strictly financial basis, this could be considered a business transaction, a merger, where two brands came together to form a joint venture to achieve profits greater than they could have dreamed of on their own (according to Forbes, the Carter Family is the highest earning celebrity couple).  When thinking about Jay Z’s upside, the marriage provides different financial opportunities.  For example, in 2004, while Beyoncé and Jay Z were dating, Carter invested $10 million into beauty company, Carol’s Daughter (“Carol’s Daughter Poised for Growth,” Julie Naughton).  Would former drug dealer turned rapper have invested in such a company if it were not for Beyoncé?  Beyoncé offers Jay Z a new fan base, “We exchange audiences,” Jay Z says (Bloomberg, 198), but more than that a female perspective of investment opportunities.  It is understandable that Jay Z wouldn’t be interested in investing in a company that is geared toward African American women, but with his relationship with Beyoncé, who’s a global icon in her own right, those doors are now open to the rapper.  Beyoncé is an asset to Jay Z, and like a mature company, she can be used to rebrand and recreate the image of Jay Z.  Moreover, with the birth of their daughter, Blue Ivy, Jay Z is now perceived as more than just an entertainer, but a father and a family man; I hear the sound of doors being opened and lots of money coming in.  A merger/marriage benefits both joining entities because it creates new avenues for their global brands to travel and reach the millions of people who’ve yet to be touched by their business savvy.

As previously mentioned, at the pinnacle of a business career name recognition, effortless sales, and a steady stream of revenue have been acquired.  However, another aspect of such a point is that business leaders or firms attempt to give back or, teach those who have not been as fortunate, the tools to attain such success.  Many corporations and companies, like Starbucks and Nike, have established foundations to improve the quality of life for a specific demographic of people or to address issues that pertain to the scope of their industry.  Jay Z, too, has a foundation.  Carter and his mother, Gloria Carter, founded the Shawn Carter Foundation in 2002.  It was established because, according to Jay Z in the interview with Steven Forbes and Warren Buffet, “such a small thing changed my life, right? A sixth-grade teacher said, ‘You know what, you’re kind of smart.’ And I believed her.”  Carter understands that not everyone can be as lucky as he has been thus far in life.  Not everyone can “bet it all” on the music industry and try to be successful without any formal education.  The Foundation stresses the need for higher education in order to explore and develop one’s mind.  Such efforts cannot be attempted if the resources and finances are not available, though.  The Shawn Carter Foundation has grown with Carter as he has succeeded financially during his music career.  According to the foundation’s website, they have awarded over $1.3 million to students so they could pursue higher learning.  Jay Z’s tool to success is intellect and a different understanding of the world around him; he recognizes that education is needed to reach such points.

Another philanthropic way, in which Jay Z gives back, is through his current lifestyle company, Roc Nation.  Roc Nation is primarily a record label, but it recently began representing professional athletes.  It is different from other representation companies because it focuses on the development, cultivation and continued support of its clients.  In an interview with BBC Radio’s Zane Lowe, Jay Z talks about how his new sports management division of the company alters the current industry.  It is no secret that the sports industry dwarfs the music industry in terms of revenue.  Players are being paid millions upon millions of dollars, but they aren’t receiving the support they need to maintain their wealth for the years to come after their playing days.  The average playing career in the NFL is three to four years, and shortly after that players end up broke.  Carter says, “Now they (current sports agents) have to wake up and go to work.  They’ve spent fifteen, twenty years just sitting back and collecting the check, now they have to see how their [client’s] mama doing and if his mental situation is where it needs to be.”  Jay Z understands that he stands less to gain from his clients than they stand to gain from him.  For Jay Z it is more than the profits.  With Roc Nation and Roc Nation sports, he wants to promote financial literacy, so that young and highly successful people can be secure in the future when they no longer have the ability to produce at profitable levels.  Despite the company being a business, its principle is purely philanthropic, and socially conscious.

Jay Z had to lay the groundwork himself as a young and unproven artist.  It was he who sold his tracks out of his car, along with business partner Damon Dash, and it was he who founded his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records, in order to distribute his music on a larger scale.  Jay Z the entrepreneur invested the money, time, and energy to promote himself as a brand, and when that wasn’t enough he sought out bigger record labels to help with his production.  Through consistent output of music and innovation in the way Jay Z could profit from his brand, he has achieved a respected and revered status in the industry.  He has the attention and command of his listeners, and when his name is attached to some new product or some new album they respond.  This suggests that there is a pattern to success no matter what the industry or profession.  Jay Z’s physical journey to fame and wealth was quite different than that of others who have attained the same position, but the characteristics and genius behind them are very much the same.

Shawn Carter is needed, not just for pop-culture, but also for Black America.  We need a beacon of hope and of prominence where we can look to as a rubric for success.  In Jay Z’s own words, “We want to be looked at as a real solid company.  Not a good black company, but a good company ‘cause there’s a difference,” (“Jigga Man Jay Z Gets Down With Vibe”).  Jay Z is driven and determined to attain a spot in society that black Americans do not see everyday, and he’s doing it for us.  I, too, used to be a part of the group that thought rappers were selfish, stupid and materialistic ignoramuses.  Before I knew anything about Jay Z, he was grouped with such artists.  I don’t know if the hip-hop genre will ever distance itself from that notion, but I believe Jay Z has made a distinct decision to be a different example of African American identity.  Rap is poetry.  The rhymes and subliminal messages are beautiful, and when artists are straightforward with their messages the art form loses a bit of its appeal.  If you look deep enough at all aspects of Jay Z’s career, his message and desire of becoming an influential figure which the African American people can look towards is evident.

Thanks for listening.

Maxwell