With his stellar connections to LA’s key influencers across fashion, music, sports and entertainment, Javier Laval, founder of luxury footwear brand Android Homme, recalls where it all began…
“Android Homme was kinda like a surprise epiphany moment. I grew up in the Bay area (San Francisco) and never really knew what I wanted to do.
I was an athlete in high school and I had a scholarship to play basketball and ended up breaking my wrist before I got there. That killed my career because I’m 5′ 8″ on a good day, so I was a point guard. If you don’t have your handles, you’re done. I dropped outta school, I thought I was going to be the next Spud Webb and when that didn’t happen I was like, ‘man, what do I do?’.
Our team was winning and so I started to do some parties to celebrate the team winning, and that steam rolled. It was the start of my trajectory in entertainment marketing and ultimately fashion.
I was doing events in San Francisco; record release parties etc. This was all pre Facebook, so word of mouth, flyers. You burn a lot of calories walking up and down the street putting flyers on cars. That started me into making some really quick money. Do an event, charge five bucks – this is a good look. I don’t have to go to school for this and I can use my connections.
At the same time, power stations weren’t playing Hip Hop labels like Bad Boy, and so they had to come to the smaller guys like us. They give us posters and flyers and vinyl, and we go club-to-club and service all the DJs and put the posters on lampposts. That’s where the hustle started. We got paid $1,000 a month to do this.
The great thing was when the artist would come to town to do a promo tour, where they would come and meet people, greet people, perform for free, they would do it at my spot. I had the kind of leverage, where I was like ‘I’m working on promoting you, I’ll set something up so you can meet people – meet the DJs, The Fugees, Nas, Jay Z, Biggie … I was actually with B.I.G. the day before he came to LA and got murdered, so there’s a lot of history on how this hustle and how this whole thing started. Eventually, this lead me to LA and then I continued the trajectory.
“Influencers of the time”
Some labels were asking how to bridge their artists with brands and so this was about late 90s, early 2000s, so I started to do that freelance.
At the time I felt like this shit was easy. Success was really easy. I’m making a lot of money – I’m really young. I’m meeting all the right people. It was just a real flow for me at that time. I was up all night. It didn’t seem like work, I was just having fun.
I got approached by a couple of executives from Nike and they asked if I could execute a secret project they were working on called Blu House in Venice Beach
It was Jim Morrison’s old house and we renovated it and created the Nike Blu House. It was a group of influencers of the time. We had zero social media influencer presence, at the time it was Friendster or MySpace, it was super early. We were influencers in a different way. We had direct contact to celebrities and the cool kids. It was defined differently back then.
We created this space where influencers could come and experience new Nike products, a lot of stuff came out of that like Mister Cartoon Air Force 1, all this stuff we curated and helped facilitate.
That Snowballed and then I got approached by Chiat Day, the agency on record for Apple, at the time they just had this secret product and I didn’t even know what it was, but it was the iPod. They had just dropped a commercial with Eminem music and Eminem had sued them and was like, ‘I don’t fuck with them guys, I don’t even know what you’re doing’.
Launching the iPod
How do we launch his product to the market. They knew at the time the value but we didn’t know. We didn’t understand MP3, the whole iTunes shit they’d created. They brought us in as a thinktank and we helped them craft the story and communicate a story and put together a campaign.
It was all-encompassing as we didn’t want to alienate any race or class or colour, so we used silhouettes. Then you saw these silhouettes popping up on billboards. I brought in some directors to direct their first commercials. Choreographers – all their early stuff. My partner at the time was a big music video director had done all this shit for Snoop in Brazil, 50 Cent, you name it.
On the celebs in the video they’d be wearing it. 50 Cent’s waking up, he’s hot at the time, gets out of bed, rolls out this iPod. Mary J Blige, Lenny Kravitz. Then the shit took off and they didn’t need us any more. In hindsight, if we’d have known what we were doing, we would have gotten a lot more out of it.
Going it alone
There are many more stories like that. Then I was like, I want to do something on my own. Even though I was working for people as self employed, I was at their mercy, waiting for them to pay me. I didn’t have a hardcore entrepreneurial background. I didn’t study, hadn’t been to school, and so that’s how I decided to start Android.
It was a huge shift in mindset. So many things were happening, we did Drake’s Grammy party and it was so easy. When I decided to do Android I went into it with the same belief.
It was different. There was more production and metrics to be met when you’re dealing with products than when you’re dealing with services and people. That was a big shock to me. I didn’t have the tools to do that and I had to learn quick. I lost some confidence, I was like ‘holy shit, I don’t think I can do this’.
That’s where I embarked on a mind-shift process because I knew it was possible as I was already having some success with the brand. Justin Beiber was wearing it, Usher, all these guys and so I knew there was something there. I was still kind of shocked by the level of business acumen that you need in order to succeed in other areas. That was when I started to dig a little deeper and think ‘am I cut out for this’. I’m still here today so I guess the answer is yes.
I started to realise that I had a lot of self-limiting thoughts permeating. I wasn’t sure how to scale it and grow it. I started to buckle down and go OT on learning. I learned how to use illustrator, design shoes, do my taxes. Everything was online. I invested in seminars
I started to look at what I was doing. Why I was doing it. How I was doing it. And that’s when I started to see some growth.
When I decided to do sneakers I didn’t know it was going to be sneakers at the time but knew I had to do something. I didn’t want to be a promoter forever. I was dating someone at the time and she was designing jewellery and she was like, ‘I’m going to China to look for a manufacturer, do you want to go?”
‘Come with me, maybe you’ll find something’.
We were on a bus with chickens, there was very little infrastructure. The way china has grown in the last 10 years has been incredible. Through a friend of a friend I ended up meeting a shoe manufacturer. At the time I didn’t know if I wanted to do hats, T-shirts or apparel.
I didn’t have any shoe designs at the time, I was just asking questions. What kind of shoes can you make? Can I decide my own shoe to make me a sample? He was like, ‘yeah, $2,500’. I only had four days left in China so I was skeptical – I’m gonna give this guy $2,500 and this guy’s gonna fucking burn me and never send me anything. But I said, screw it. I’m here, I’ll come back tomorrow.
I sketched my first design which is the Propulsion High which was our best selling shoe for five to six years. It’s a high top. I sketched it the night before and gave him the money. A month went by; communication was tough as there was no Whatsapp or anything. It was hard to communicate at the time. Lo and behold, he sent me the sample and I was like, ‘shit, this guy really came through’.
That’s when I shared it the guys that would ultimately become my partners – Matty, Steve and Sonny. We hunkered around these shoes and was like, ‘shit, ok, we have something’. You got the connections – the celebrities and nightlife, one has great vision, one’s great at sales and marketing – they had experience that I didn’t have and that’s how we created the team.
It’s been ups and downs. We were the first to market and we had an odd price point. There were no Buscemi, Louboutin. It was either cheap like Creative Rec or expensive like Prada, Gucci etc. There were no independent sneaker brands at the time that were pushing this in the market so we struggled for a few years in finding our customer. Retailers struggled with where to put us.
Making a mark
The best thing that happened that more people saw what we were doing and got involved, so other people started creating brands. It created a category, but at the time it was really just us.
From there, we’ve ridden the waves. Going from a wholesale model into Bergdorfs and Saks and Kith, then Selfridges in the UK; we’ve got the best stores in the world but we all know that traditional retail is falling apart because online is crushing everybody. The biggest challenge for us as a team was making that shift from wholesale into a direct consumer business with social media, etc.
Ultimately the vision is to communicate a story and energy of transformation. It’s about inspiring people. The only thing that allowed me to do it was my bullish head. I faced fear, I got deathly sick after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and I had to make a massive shift with how I approached my life.
The brand is about inspiration; we all strive and aspire to be more than what we were exposed to and what we thought was possible. Android Homme is that guy. It’s the thinking guy. You hear lifestyle brand but Android Homme is a mindset brand. Not everyone has the same lifestyle but people can share a mindset and it unites them. Not how they’re living but how they’re thinking. Android Homme provides that inspiration for those people. I get tonnes of hits on social asking how to start a brand out. I’m free with the information. I want other people to succeed and do well.”
A transcript of podcast Hustle Sold Separately with Javier Laval