How did a skater kid from Akron, Ohio start one of the most influential fashion companies in Los Angeles? With only a couple thousand dollars saved up, Chris ‘Drama’ Pfaff moved to Los Angeles fresh out of high school. He starred in a series of MTV reality shows with his cousin, Rob Dyrdek, and used that fame to launch his brand. Young and Reckless is a trendy streetwear line with a purpose: to inspire young people to break the mold and live their best lives. I sat down with Drama to ask him about skating, fashion, and moving from reality TV to eCommerce.
Julia Martin: What advice do you have for someone trying to start an eCommerce brand?
Drama: So the cool thing is, now anyone can build a platform. I know it’s really hard and it’s insanely hard for me to even keep mine going and keep it level. All of my biggest competitors are people that built their platforms from scratch and now they have an extremely engaged audience that loves them and loves what they do. The fact that there are zero barriers to entry to building a platform and building a following is insane.
If you’re young and you’re trying to start an eCommerce company, you have to really take a moment and forget all the negative and forget how hard it is and realize that, in 2019, it’s such a blessing and such a gift. Just do everything that you can to tell your brand’s story. Tell what you’re all about and build a following before you invest too heavily in product.
I see a lot of people go really heavy in product and have a warehouse full of product and no one there to buy it. Your spirit gets broken before you even have a shot at getting it out there. Build the platform first, we’re lucky, it’s easier than ever and then worry about product.
JM: Have you always been interested in fashion or is it something you developed later in life?
Drama: Growing up, I was never a fashion designer kid, but I was always super particular about my little outfits. It’s part of skate culture. You follow the hip hop trend or the rock and roll trend. It’s funny how much skaters, for how cool they look, care a lot about what they look like and what they’re wearing. I was super into it but not to the level of sitting in my room and sketching art. Then, I have this platform that I’m building through the show and through my social media following. I tried a bunch of other stuff and I was just really trying to find that thing that would connect. Clothing ended up being the thing that I could wear on social media and I could talk about. There was a perfect set of retailers for us to send it to being Pacsun, Zumiez and Tilly’s. That’s exactly where all of my customers were shopping at the time so I think that one just connected. The brand message connected and clothing ended up choosing me as much as I chose it. I would have followed whatever was successful. My end goal was to be an entrepreneur and a business owner more so than a fashion designer so that’s how it happened.
JM: What was the first piece of clothing that made you feel stylish?
Drama: As weird as it is now, it was probably a white dress shirt from Goodwill. At the time, I was super into the rock and roll look. I was probably 14 and had dyed black long hair. I thought for sure I was a rockstar and I went to Goodwill and bought these little white long sleeve dress shirts. Man I felt like I was Sid Vicious or something. I loved that thing.
JM: What made you want to move to Los Angeles?
Drama: At the time it was a mixture of, I was obsessed with skateboarding, that’s all I did all day everyday, and LA is like the skateboard capital of the world. LA was always this super dream of a city to me growing up. You could skate all year round, the weather is always nice, and there were all these great places. I think from a very young age I knew that I wanted to move out here. Also just the general opportunity. I was super ambitious and hungry, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but there were just no options in Ohio. So as soon as a graduated high school, I started figuring out how to move.
JM: Did you have a plan before you left?
Drama: I didn’t have as good of one as I should have, now that I live here and know the difference. I had a cousin who lived out here who I went on to do a bunch of shows with. I didn’t know him very well so I just hit him up and said, ‘hey I’m gonna be out there, if there’s anything we can do, I would love to work for you, I would love to do anything.’ So I just came out here and started. I connected with him and then I started looking around for jobs and it just worked out, luckily for me. I was searching on, at the time it was Westside Rentals, I don’t know if people still use that. I was looking for apartments. I had a couple thousand bucks saved up from graduation, I was hoping that would last me until I could find an apartment and get a job and, it worked!
JM: How did being on reality TV influence you to start Young and Reckless?
Drama: The most instant way is that it gave me a platform, it gave me a following, and it gave me a place to market a company. I just had to find the right company or brand or whatever was right for that audience. What it really taught me is the importance of creating content, building a following, and then offering them a product that fits what they’re looking for.
I think that combo is really important. A lot of people get really good at content but can’t ever figure out product, and a lot of people figure out product but can’t figure out how to get any eyeballs on it or get anyone to care. That really taught me at a young age the full circle and how important all the aspects of it were. I tried a bunch of different businesses. I tried a microwave burrito company and some sort of weird bracelet accessory company. Young and Reckless was really the one that I think connected with the audience that I had and that’s why it worked so well.
JM: What is the core message behind Young and Reckless?
Drama: It’s really just trying to teach young people, and also inspire them, to break out of the life that was expected for them. Growing up in Akron, Ohio, you go to high school, maybe you go to college, maybe you don’t. You marry someone from your high school, you move down the street from your parents, and you get a job at the local whoever is offering. I saw that cycle over and over at a young age and then I saw what moving to LA did for me. I saw all these people that were doing their own thing and going for it and trying to make their dreams come true and that really inspired me. It’s just trying to, not only inspire young people, but also teach them how to break out of the plan that was made for them by their parents and live the best life that they possibly can.
JM: What are your tips for being in such a competitive industry?
Drama: I think the ‘why’ behind what you’re doing is so important.
It’s important in any company and any brand, but especially in clothing because it’s really hard for me to sell anything that’s going to truly revolutionize the industry. At the end of the day, I’m selling things that a lot of other people are selling also. If you don’t have a reason why people should wear your t-shirt over another t-shirt, you’re going to be dead in the water. That transfers to how you treat your employees and the reason they’re motivated to work for you as opposed to a million other clothing brands, and also to your customers of why they should wear your stuff. The main thing is you’ve got to know why you exist, what people are feeling when they’re putting on your clothes, and then make sure you show that through everything you do.
JM: What has been the best moment of running an e-commerce company?
Drama: We started growing at retail. You would do these marketing things but you couldn’t really tell how impactful it was, you were just kind of guessing. I think the cool thing about eCommerce is you can put together an ad campaign and really put a lot of effort into it with a plan and a goal, and then you can see almost instantly if you’re hitting that plan or goal, and you can adjust.
I think the ability to instantly get metrics on everything you’re doing and also to own your customer, it’s all in your hands. If you do good, they’re there, if you don’t, you pay the price for it but at least it’s in your hands and not dealing with buyers or other barriers to try to get your stuff out there.
JM: What has been the worst?
Drama: The worst part is that it’s constant. You have to constantly evolve and grow and change.
There’s a lot of people doing a lot of really incredible things on eCommerce. I think the good thing about big-box retail was you kind of just fit into the mold. As long as you did an okay job, there’s not much else for you to do. You have your shelf space, you have your little images in stores, and it just kind of did it’s thing. On eComm, you can have a massive month and then the next month can be dead if you don’t have something there to back it up.
So that’s probably the biggest good and bad.
JM: If you could work for any other company who would it be?
Drama: I would want to have a very high-level, not saying I deserve it, but a very high level job at Amazon. What they’re doing is obviously undeniable and I just wanna see how it actually works. how do they keep track of all of that insane amount of things that are going on? If ever I get offered an executive job at Amazon I might take it.
JM: How important is social media advertising?
Drama: It’s so important. It’s almost everything for us to be honest. We’ve had trouble finding anything that is as much in our control, scalable, and connected to the customer as that, and we’ve tried a lot of stuff. I think that’s continuously proven to be so valuable, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere.
JM: What platform could you grow more on?
Drama: All of them. We’ve had a lot of success on Facebook and Instagram.
We’ve had a very hard time with YouTube. I think YouTube is really promising and I think that the people on there are also incredibly engaged, and they buy. A lot of people are having success there. We’ve just had a hard time because it’s a totally different audience. It’s not necessarily the same as the Instagram customer or the Facebook customer. We could do a lot of work there that could be really beneficial but super hard.
JM: Who has been an inspiration for you?
Drama: I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had a lot. And for me, I am constantly trying to learn. I don’t ever think that I’m the smartest guy in the world or even in the room. I really search out people that are smarter than me and know a lot more than me and listen to them.
I would say the two biggest ones are probably my cousin, when I first moved here we spent a lot of time together. We ended up filming multiple TV shows together and he’s very entrepreneurial as well and just an incredible marketer. I think he was one of the first ones that kind of showed me how to operate as an adult and that entrepreneurial sort of mindset. Then, probably my business partner, Dee, because he is also very entrepreneurial but from a different sort of brain. He went to USC and he’s very well educated in business. Where my cousin is more creative and out there, Dee is a little bit more by the book and knows how business is supposed to work. I think the combination of those two people really impacted how I see things, cause I’m a little in the middle.
JM: How do you see Young and Reckless evolving in the future?
Drama: I think our content is just going to be really incredible in the near future. I launched a podcast a couple years ago called Short Story Long. I interview self-made incredible people and just ask them how they did it and go through their life story, hoping to inspire my customers to do the same thing. We’ve been creating a lot of content for Young and Reckless from podcast style things all the way down to just having a lot of fun with our ads. We’ve been doing ads that are like comedy skits and they’ve been getting a lot of traction and having a lot of success. We’re just at the very early steps of figuring out how that all fits together but I think that, in the very near future, our content is going to be insane and that’s what’s going to drive sales and traffic and engagement.
Sohow did a skater boy from Akron start one of the most influential fashion companies in Los Angeles? He built a platform and used his brand to tell a story that resonated with his followers. The world of eCommerce is always evolving and social media advertising is the most effective way to grow a brand.