10 Fashion Designers who went from Rags to Riches

Dream: A strongly desired goal or purpose; something that fully satisfies a wish; something that you have very much wanted to do, be, or have for a long time.

This word dream, as shown in its’ definition has different meanings to different people. Some people dream of the simpler things in life such as owning a pet, finding that perfect someone, being able to spend more time with family while creating the perfect family of their own. Most kids (and some adults) have dreams of becoming their favourite superhero and going on epic quests to become the true hero to save the day. Some have dreams that are far easier said than done such as going through school and finishing with a degree that they are happy with, becoming debt free, and travelling the world. In most recent years, most people tend to dream in the actual accrual of things for status’ sake. Owning the newest smartphone, sports car, most luxurious house, and the latest trends from off the runway not only tell others that you are in with the times and trendy, but it marks you as someone with a social status and commands looks from others stating “Look at me. You want to be me.” But sometimes, it doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg to start the latest and greatest trends. You just need to have an eye for detail, a creative spirit, an ear to the ground to hear what may be coming down the road, an ability to predict what the latest and greatest trend will be, and an ability to stand your ground, no matter what others say. With this list of 10 designers, they had this ambition, and they fought to live the dream.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

10 Daymond John

A lot of people out there have NO IDEA who this person even is when they just hear the name. When you tell them that John is actually the founder, CEO and president of FUBU (For Us, By Us), if they know the hip-hop brand, then they may nod their head and say, “Oh. Okay; cool.” When you show them a picture of John though, anyone who owns a television that has cable will look at the picture and say, “Oh yeah! I know who that is. He’s the dude from Shark Tank!!!”

Daymond John grew up in Queens, NY in the Hollis neighbourhood. In seeing the culture that was emerging in the 90’s, John saw a huge potential when he went to buy a wool hat, with the top cut off and tied with fishing line, but felt that the hat was overpriced and knew he could do better at home. And so he did; he went home, sewed almost 100 of the hats with the help of a neighbour, and sold them for half the cost of what the market had them at ($20 was the average at the time so John sold his for $10 each). From this, John made $800 in one day from the sales of the hats. Knowing he was on the verge of something big, Daymond and his mom mortgaged their house to generate a start-up capital. He hired some of his friends, and they began to sew the label FUBU into everything such as jerseys, shirts and hats. And to show that he was dedicated to the brands success, he even worked full time at Red Lobster so that he could continue to have financial support during the ramp up period of his line. Along with rapper LL Cool J sporting the brand in a Gap commercial, FUBU gained nationwide exposure when the group travelled to Las Vegas to try and get a booth at Magic. Even though they couldn’t afford the booth, that didn’t stop them from selling and promoting the brand, and receiving over $300,000 worth of orders. As of 2011, FUBU (now FB Legacy) has amassed over six billion dollars in sales around the world.

9 Leonardo Del Vecchio

Again, a LOT of people are not going to know who this is, and WHY he is on the list even if we showed you a picture. If we were to mention the name of his company, Luxxotica, very few people would get it. If we were to say to you this is the guy whose company owns Sunglass Hut, Lenscrafters, Ray-Ban AND Oakley…, people get why he is on the list.

Del Vecchio was born in Milan, Italy to an impoverished family. He was given to an orphanage by his mother as she couldn’t support him financially, and his father died months before he was born. Like many of us who are working, Del Vecchio learned that the company that he was apprenticing for was not the best fit for him, as he grew a passion into metalworking but for parts for spectacles (as they were called back in the late 50’s to early 60’s). So, like many of us do for our dreams, he moved to the place where he could get the most experience and recognition which is the home of most of the Italian eyewear industry, Agordo in which he established his company and started selling complete sets of frames under Luxxotica. In true business man fashion though, when he realized that he that he needed more capital to invest into his company, he started to aquire different companies that would increase distribution to a worldwide economy versus a local one. As of March 2014, Leonardo Del Vecchio has an estimated net worth of 19.2 billion dollars.

8 Kevin Plank

Again, if you don't know this name, it’s okay ‘cause not a lot of people do. Plank is actually the founder of a brand of clothing in the athletic field, with a pretty epic name. Its name: Under Armour.

Plank actually grew up in pretty decent shape. His dad was a prominent land developer in Maryland, and his mom is a former mayor of Kensington, Maryland (where Plank grew up) who ended up directing the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs at the US Department of State under Regan. Although Plank wasn’t the most academic of students, he was however one of the most athletic which is how he got the idea for Under Armour. Plank was known as the “sweatiest guy on the football field” and he wanted to make a shirt that was suited for people who sweat; shirts that wouldn’t stick to you, were light weight, and kept you comfortable for the final quarter. Upon graduating university, where he received his bachelor’s degree in business admin, he took his $17,000 that he made while in university and was off to tailor shops from Maryland to New York in search of his ideal fabric. He tested around seven prototypes before he asked former teammates to try the shirts on, and sending them to  his friends who ended up playing professionally, asking them to hand them out to their teammates. It came at a cost though, as during his ramp up years, Plank went $40K in the hole over five credit cards, even going back to his mom’s house so she'd cook him dinner. And then, the first round of orders started to ring in from teams who tried and loved the product, and after a $25,000 advertisement in ESPN The Magazine, Under Armour truly began to become what it is today. As of September 2013, Plank’s net worth is estimated to be $1.7 billion.

7 Ralph Lauren

Okay, if you DON’T know who Ralph Lauren is, just think of Polo; those fragrance bottles that have the guys playing polo on the front of them, those shirts that have the guy playing polo in the corner…, yeah, that’s this guy.

He was born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx, NY, and after school, he served in the army, and then decided to pursue becoming a tie salesman. When he was 26, he was inspired to do a wide necktie when in the 60’s the style was a skinny necktie. When the idea was rejected by the company Lauren was employed with, he left to start up his own company where he literally took rags and made them into ties. He would go to different shops in New York to sell his product but Lauren hit a major turning point for his future when he was approached by department store Neiman Marcus, who wanted to purchase the ties from him to sell at their store (in which they ended up purchasing 1200). And with the financial support of clothing manufacturer Norman Hilton, Lauren ended up opening his own necktie store where he displayed his own designs under the name Polo. And the rest is history with Lauren’s estimated net worth at $7 billion.

6 Lee Alexander McQueen

No, he is not related to Steve McQueen…, either of them. This is one of Britain’s greatest designers who is known for working with Givenchy,  and his own line. However, if you don’t recognize the name, that’s ok. Just remember stuff with skulls on it and you’ll be good to go.

McQueen was born in Lewisham, London, England to a taxi driver and a social science teacher. McQueen got the designing bug early, even making dresses for his sisters to wear. At 16, he left school to work for tailors Anderson & Sheppard, and then Gieves & Hawkes, and to gain the most experience even though he had clients like Prince Charles, Angels & Bermans who created theatre costumes. Because of this experience, McQueen gained a reputation for having garments and outfits that had an impeccable tailored style to them. In ’94 when he applied to work as a pattern cutter tutor at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, McQueen was encouraged to enroll as a student rather than to be a tutor, and because of this, McQueen earned his masters degree and had his entire graduation collection purchased by one fashion stylist, who told McQueen to go by Alexander versus Lee when he launched his fashion career. McQueen has had numerous celebrities become his patrons such as Nicole Kidman, Rhianna, Sarah Jessica Parker and has had artists like Bjork, Lady Gaga, and David Bowie incorporate his designs into their work. Sadly however, McQueen cut his own life short and hung himself at his home in London in 2010.

5 Elie Tahari

It’s going to be ok as there is only one more person who you may not recognize after this one and then the list looks familiar. But this one is a goodie. Not a lot is known about this designer but we have some specs on him.

Tahari was born in Jerusalem in 1952, and his family moved back and forth from Israel to Iran before settling back in Israel. When his parents got divorced, and his father remarried, Tahari moved around in Israel as he was sent to an orphanage. When he finally immigrated to New York, he had less than $100 with him and slept on park benches in Central Park before getting a job at a boutique in Greenwich Village…, as an electrician (everyone gets their start somewhere). However, when he started to create his own works (mostly dresses that reflected ‘70s style), they were becoming so popular that he had to open a store for his work. And where was this store? Madison Avenue; Tahari was actually one of the first designers to open up a boutique on the infamous avenue. With Tahari’s designs allowing a woman’s true beauty to shine, Tahari’s company has an estimated net worth of over $500 million. Not bad for an electrician.

4 Gabrielle Bohneur Chanel (Coco Chanel)

If you don’t recognize that last name, we welcome you from out under the rock that you have been living under for the last goodness knows how long. Chanel is a French fashion designer who founded the Chanel brand AND in 1999, she was the ONLY fashion designer to be listed on Time’s 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century, so let’s just say, she’s good. Really good.

Chanel was born in 1883 in Saumur, France. Her parents were not married at the time which back then was a REALLY big deal. When she was twelve, her mother died of bronchitis and her father sent her and her sisters to the convent of Aubazine, which was, “founded the poor and rejected, including running homes for abandoned and orphaned girls.” Ouch. However, during her time there, she did learn how to sew and as such, she was able to get a job as a seamstress. However, like many people, she had dreams of grandeur and when she wasn't sewing, she would moonlight as a singer. Chanel made her singing debut at “La Rotonde” and she was dubbed a poseuses (which in music terms, if you were at a rock metal festival, she would be the one on stage between KISS and Metallica). Because of this though, she got the nickname Coco because of the songs that she got known for singing. In 1906, Chanel tried to break it big in a town called Vichy, but basically got told that she had the look, but that was about it, so Chanel fell back on her trade and became a seamstress for Etienne Balsan. And then became his mistress. It was through affair that Chanel became a licensed milliner and met her true love, Captain Arthur Edward “Boy” Capel, who actually financed Chanel’s first shops. Although Chanel died in 1971, her fashion house that she founded (by the same name) has carried on the legacy by offering a wide range of iconic garments (the Chanel Suit and the “little black dress”) but also branching out into accessories and has its’ own fragrance. Chanel, as a brand, has an estimated net worth of seven billion dollars as of 2013.

3 Sue Wong

Like what was said previously, one more name you might not recognize and the rest is recognizable.

Sue Wong was born in the southern countryside of Communist China and when she was six, her mother bribed a border guard with her own wedding jewelry so that they could get out of the country, and live in Hong Kong. When Wong was seven, she and her mother immigrated to the US to live with Sue’s father. They lived in Los Angeles but at first, it was in an apartment that was filled with rats and cockroaches. And because they were a struggling immigrant family, there was no room in the budget for things like lavish clothes or toys so Wong made her own. She made paper dolls to play with and when she was nine, she started to make her own dresses as she would want to wear something new for those Friday night dances. Later in life, Wong got the opportunity to open her own fashion store in Bohemian Venice, California and another one in West Hollywood, in which she dressed stars as Bianca Jagger and Goldie Hawn. This is really when Wong’s style and elegance with clothing started to shine, where she took elements from the ‘20s-‘40s and added her own styling onto them. Wong is famous for having clothes that are as elegant and fashionable for women to wear, but that don’t break the bank like other top designers gowns tend to do.

2 Louis Vuitton

Vuitton was born in 1821 in Anchay, France into a working class family, which had joiners, carpenters, farmers and milliners in his family line. When his mother died, Vuitton’s father remarried, and needless to say, Vuitton and his step mother did NOT get along. So at 14, Vuitton ran away from home and ran to Paris, but it took him two years to get there as he was 14 and travelling on foot. He worked odd jobs to feed himself along the way and staying where he could to find shelter and at 16, Vuitton made it to Paris. When Vuitton got to Paris, he was taken in as an apprentice for Monsieur Marechal, whom was a successful box maker, and that’s where it all began. 16 years after Vuitton got to Paris, Louis-Napolean Boneparte staged a coup d’etat, and a year later assumed the title of Emporer under the name Napolean III, and Napolean’s wife hired Vuitton to be her personal box maker. Of course, naturally this opened many doors for Vuitton. After getting married in 1854 (to a 17 year old; well done), Vuitton opened his box-making and packing workshop in Paris, and four years after that, Vuitton revolutionized the world by introducing his now infamous rectangular shaped trunks that had flat tops on them, as all the other trunks at the time had rounded tops, so now you could stack ‘em (God bless this man)! As of 2012, the estimated revenue for Louis Vuitton was 3.2 billion Euros (which is almost 4.5 billion US).

1 Theirry Hermes

Seriously, you better know the last name or else we don’t know what to do with you.

Hermes was born in Krefeld, Germany in 1801. Since Hermes was part French (because of his mother) he ended up moving to France in 1821 since the rest of his family was dead. And we mean, everybody; causes due to disease and war. Not much else is really known about the beginnings of Hermes BUT what we can tell you is that in 1837 he established a harness workshop in Paris that was dedicated to serving European nobleman. And in 1880, his son Charles-Emile Hermes took over the shop, and since he was now the new owner, Charles introduced saddlery into the shop and retail sales versus just nobleman clientele. However, that being said, unless you had a lot of money back then, you didn't bother going (just like today) as everything there was made with quality and the best of the best, which you pay for hand and fist. And when Charles’ son took over, new owner, new rules, so this is when fashion and handbags came into the picture. The handbags was because of his wife complaining that she could never find a bag she liked…, and so begins the epic journey that is Hermes (and the beginning of the coveted “Birkin”). As of 2010, the revenue from the Hermes company was at 2.401 billion Euros which translates to just over three billion US. Not bad for a company that started off as a workshop for people with horses.

More in The Biggest