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How this skateboarder used social media to kickflip his brand

If you don’t know who Brett Conti is, just wait. At 24 years old, this skateboarder turned entrepreneur has built a budding clothing brand—not with a deep marketing budget, but with the power of social media.

Sales of his skateboard gear and apparel line, Fortune NY, spiked from $8,000 in his first year to hundreds of thousands of dollars this year. (Conti didn’t disclose exact sales figures.)

“It’s crazy that I’m competing with these huge brands that have millions of dollars in marketing budgets, and I have zero,” he tells me in the video above. “I have social media. That’s all you need.”

Skateboard culture

I caught up with Conti at one of his favorite spots, Tribeca Skatepark in Lower Manhattan, where star-struck skateboarders were thrilled to take selfies with him, and Conti was happy to oblige.

“I have YouTube, Instagram, Twitter,” he says. “I just leverage that as highly as I can, and it’s been working pretty well.”

When he started his business in 2013, Conti couldn’t afford to pay “influencers”—bloggers and celebrities to use his merchandise and then talk it up on social media. So, he become his own influencer.

Nearly four years later, his Big Apple-based lifestyle brand is sold in several brick-and-mortar retailers nationwide, including dozens of Zumiez, Blades and Underground Skateshop locations. This year, he added Fortune NY skateboards to his product lineup.

He’s part of a growing industry that is capitalizing on “skateboard culture.” The global skateboarding equipment market is expected to top $5 billion by 2020. That includes skateboards, footwear and protective gear.

Conti says many of his customers don’t even own a skateboard; they simply want to adopt a skateboarder’s attitude and style.

Flipping to sewing

“My dream was always to become a professional skateboarder,” Conti says, “but then I got hurt skateboarding at 20 years old, during my junior year at college.”

That’s when Conti turned to his other passion, sewing. Inspired at a young age by his grandfather’s textile business, Conti put some classes he had taken at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology to good use. He started making T-shirts and beanies out of his dorm room at Manhattan College, where he was studying finance.

He used the $2,500 he earned as an intern at Morgan Stanley as seed money for his business. Companies that had sponsored him as a skateboarder, including Nike and Red Bull, helped connect him with suppliers and manufacturers.

Fast forward to 2017: Conti no longer makes the clothing himself. He has a California manufacturer for that. His “pinch-me” moment came when rapper Kendrick Lamar requested some Fortune NY loot to wear at a Grammy’s after-party. “When I got that email from Lamar’s record label, I thought it was fake,” Conti says with a smile.

While Conti is focused on growing Fortune NY, he predicts that in five years he’ll probably own another company. Said like a true entrepreneur.

Watch for a few more of Conti’s favorite things: