SHIRTS AND SKINS

SHIRTS AND SKINS.....The clothing and shoe company FUBU (the name comes from their slogan "For Us, By Us") was launched in 1992 in the historic hip-hop neighborhood of Hollis, Queens by Daymond John and four childhood friends. Today, the still privately-held company is approaching the half billion dollar mark in annual sales.

FUBU, which has long featured artists such as LL Cool J in its advertising, has an alliance with Universal Records, one result of which is the newly-released compilation album The Goodlife, featuring Erick Sermon, Beenie Man, Joe, India.Arie, LL Cool J, Ludacris, and Keith Murray. The album is being promoted not only in radio, TV, and print ads, but also in thousands of clothing stores. Many FUBU apparel items contain a tag advertising the album.

FUBU's web site paints an up-by-the-bootstraps portrait of young entrepreneurs who wanted to give inner city youth a chance to buy gear they could relate to. Billboard portrays the company's founders simply as savvy cross-promoters, which they obviously are. But the web site of the National Labor Committee for Human and Worker Rights tells quite a different story. According to the NLC, much of FUBU's gear is made in Burma by workers who make eight cents an hour. In China, where FUBU shoes are made at a factory in Jiaozhou City, the 2,000 women workers average 22 cents an hour in wages for a 58-hour week, live twelve to a small dorm room, and must get permission to leave the factory grounds. The factory is surrounded by high stone walls with guard tower turrets at each corner.

Do the inner city youth FUBU claims it wants to represent ("For Us, By Us") really have anything in common with the firm's millionaire owners? Inner city kids, most likely working a McJob or forced to take the place of some former union employee just to get a meager welfare check, obviously have much more in common with the workers who produce FUBU gear. As for the artists who help promote FUBU (and the local artists now being promoted on FUBU's own record label), how long can they operate under cover of now-meaningless clichés like "Keeping it real" when the whole world is being forced to confront an even older cliché: "Which side are you on?"

The Democratic Party, which rammed through the wage-killing NAFTA bill to benefit the likes of FUBU, answered that question in February when Hilary Clinton presented an award to FUBU's Raymond John for "community leadership." Both the Democrats and corporations like FUBU really operate under the slogan "For Us, Fuck You."