If you were around in the early 90s then you probably still have the old logo for Cross Colours burned into the back of your retina. Hey, maybe you even have an old cap laying around in the shed gathering dust with that green and yellow cross. Maybe you just remember those sexy minxes from TLC getting about in their baggy jeans.
Cross Colours was everywhere.
Launched in 1989 by fashion student Carl Jones and designer TJ Walker, the brand was streetwear for the new wave of connected youth. It was based on African-American kids fashion but with a new, subversive message: they were “Clothes Without Prejudice”. The line was built on sending a positive message.
Going against the grain of the traditional black, white and denim of the gangs in the hood, the clothes had the same style but were colourful, affordable and carried positive messages such as ‘Educate 2 Elevate’.
Who wore Cross Colours?
It’s more like who didn’t wear Cross Colours. Anyone who was anyone at the time was getting in on it. You had the cast of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air decked out on set, you had ballers like Shaq and Magic Johnson, bonafide rappers like Dre and Snoop, as well as everyone else from a young dancer called Jennifer Lopez, to Calvin Klein model / rapper Marky Mark, and soul man Stevie Wonder.
When was it?
From 1990 to 1993 were huge years for Cross Colours.
The brand was building in 1990. There were others involved working for the company like Colette Bailey and Deborah Parker, keen to jump in on something so fresh and new. Colette was keen for the opportunity to work at a black-owned fashion label, even if working conditions weren’t optimal with a leaky roof.
The team was a tight-knit crew of 20 and 30 somethings who believed in the Cross Colours philosophy and spent most of their waking hours together – working Saturdays too. The atmosphere was like a fun family, partying and working together around the clock.
Their breakout at the 1991 Las Vegas Magic trade show was one of the biggest clothing label successes of all time. The pair, off the back of all their samples managed to sign around 5 million dollars worth of orders over the course of the show. Their style was so different, so fresh, that everyone wanted to get on board. The orders from the show ended up taking the guys six months to produce, which they did themselves from the company’s downtown loft in LA.
The guys also met up with Karl Kani that year, an aspiring streetwear designer and signed him to produce to his own range for the company. The clothes flew off the shelves.
The next year at the 1992 trade show, Cross Colours signed for 40 million dollars worth of orders.[Trailer for 2015 documentary Fresh Dressed that takes a look at the 90s streetwear movement]
And then what?
At the end of 1993 and going into 1994 the boys were still going strong working hard every day. They didn’t see what was coming around the corner.
Some say the 1993 trade show was a disaster. Trying to inch out industry spies – it was estimated at this time that up to 50% of all Cross Colours apparel on the market was counterfeit – Jones moved the Cross Colours booth to a side room. It was hidden from the floor so people didn’t see it. Their clothes arrived a day and a half late. And then on top of all that, when the clothes did arrive they were all in earth tones, phasing out the brash brightness of the original brand stamp. Salespeople who hadn’t seen the samples didn’t know what to say. In trying to change with their customers, it seems Cross Colours managed to miss the boat. Jones however, says that the brand managed to sell $50 million at the show – this is unverified.
Adding insult to injury a spoken deal with Magic Johnson fell through. Johnson hadn’t signed onthe dotted line.
Their customers were saying they were slow and inconsistent with deliveries, missing deadlines and not fulfilling orders, because even though the brand was busy they had a cash flow problem. They weren’t sure who they owed money to, and for what. A strong CFO at the helm was missing.
One of their major clients, the Merry-Go-Round clothing chain suddenly went into bankruptcy, which threw out all their previous calculations. Merry-Go-Round sales at the time were making up around 60% of Cross Colours business. The chain had been around since the 70s, so as far as the guys were concerned there was no chance anything would go wrong. They were still getting wooed by JC Penney, but didn’t have the resources to stock the huge nation-wide chain.
The brand started selling clothes for cash to a third party who stocked them in discount stores around the country, leaving full price retailers in competition with them.
With Merry-Go-Round, it was the beginning of the end for Cross Colours. In hindsight, the guys should’ve predicted an upset earlier.
With less money coming in and a build-up of excess stock the guys were on the back foot. Staff were being laid off left and right and an inconsistency in the accounting of the security company lead to a scary stand-off between staff and guards. Unfortunately, with the orders stopping, they were forced into liquidation – ending up only just being able to pay out all their contractors.
During the hard times the label was forced to sell their trademark to pay off creditors.
After 20 years out of the game, Jones and TJ managed to win back the Cross Colours trademark. It seemed that the duo had unfinished business in the garment industry. In 2014 a limited edition Cross Colours line was produced in collaboration with The Hundreds, a Los Angeles streetwear project. The line is inspired by the resurgence of 90s fashion and culture, a period of time that was heavily influenced by the original brand.
Besides this there is definitely still a lot of influences in the streetwear fashion industry that can be attributed to the Cross Colours phenomenon. Bright colours, Contrasting panels, Oversized fits and a lot of early 90s graphic/logo styles.
We were definitely inspired by elements of Cross Colours and early 90s streetwear with some of the pieces in our latest Summer 15/16 range, which you can check out on our shop page.