How NFL champ Carl Banks brings winning spirit to sportswear | Black Entrepreneurs

Carl Banks is in a rare category of NFL players who have won at least two Super Bowl rings. But that was just the beginning of his achievements. He also turned his winning ways on the field into success in the apparel industry.

Banks was a New York Giants linebacker in the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s. But on his days off, he'd go to Manhattan's Garment District for his own leather jacket business, building a foundation for future success.

"I started off as big and tall suede-only jackets, and now I'm doing men's, women's, swimwear," Banks said. "Alliances with DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger. We have a Michael Strahan line that we're going to debut on Home Shopping Network." 

Banks had a vision for turning sports fandom into a wearable experience. He took his idea to the owners of G-III clothing and pledged to be a hands-on executive, not just a famous name put on other people's creations. The result is his own company, G-III Sports by Carl Banks, with 75 in-house staff and a 50-person sales force. Diversity and developing new talent have been built in since Day 1.

"From Day 1, I'm a Black man, I have Black designers, I have a very diverse group of employees because we're an international company," he said. "Being in an environment that is entrepreneurial in spirit, allowed me to really spread my wings. If we can think of it, we can figure it out, and make it make sense."

What makes sense now are merchandising deals with major sports leagues and teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, plus 175 college teams and even some NASCAR deals. Banks said that to get to that level, he had to convince many people along the way he was truly a serious businessman.

"You find people sit up straight in their chair when they find out that you actually know what you're talking about, and that you actually know the business that you're trying to get them to partner with you on," Banks said.

On the football field, Banks learned that if he's blocked, he has to find another way forward. That is just one of the lessons taken from his NFL days that have helped him to the top of this highly competitive industry.

"My philosophy was 'Be prepared,' just like I was when I played football, know my stuff, know my opponent, or in this case, know the industry," he said.

Three decades later, while others have burned out, Banks is excited by new business opportunities, like creating fresh styles for the expanding female sportswear market, which he says used to be called "Pink it and shrink it." And then there's always that competitive spirit that made him a Super Bowl champion.

"It's my passion for fashion, but I just enjoy growing, and trying to be No. 1 every year," Banks said. 

Banks that even more than the profits, he is constantly energized by the process as long as it always involves giving up-and-coming talent a chance.

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