EXECUTIVES & ENTREPRENEURS

How DudeRobe’s Menswear Got an Assist From the NBA’s R&D Agency

The upstart apparel business got a boost from NBALAB, a little-known league venture that assists smaller companies that cannot afford to pay for full NBA licensing.

Dudes liked the DudeRobe, a bathrobe that comes with a hoodie that is available in the team colors of seven NBA teams. The Jazz, Knicks, and Nets liked them so much that they ordered them for their players.

And viewers of Good Morning America liked them so much — and many of those viewers were presumably not dudes — that $175,000 worth of merchandise moved within five hours after DudeRobe’s segment aired.

Now, the inventor of the DudeRobe has struck a deal with a division of NBA Properties known as NBALAB, an incubator program that helps small businesses get a developmental boost without having to acquire full licensing rights from the NBA first.

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DudeRobe is now preparing for a drop on Dec. 29 with the release of robes bearing the logos and team colors of the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, and New York Knicks, and a business that started as a far-flung idea may just grow exponentially as a result.

“Small businesses like my own are getting a boost in exchange for paying a higher royalty, but this is a great program for companies that do not have the financial means to get full licensing rights,” said Howie Busch, a former NFL agent who founded the company four years ago and raised $25,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to begin producing the DudeRobe.

“I am not a bathrobe guy, but some people are. And one day I came up with the idea of fusing the bathrobe with the hoodie with plush towel material, making it sort of the ultimate robe for guys. The Shark Tank folks saw it and loved it and flew me out to Los Angeles to do their show in January of 2018, and all of a sudden, I had a business,” said Busch, who is now seeking a way to jumpstart sales and has turned to NBALab for an assist.

Per its official website, NBALAB was “founded in 2015 to facilitate product expansion for the NBA’s Global Licensing Group, the NBALAB experiments with a variety of consumer goods as well as new product categories in collaboration with hand-picked companies and individuals who are making noise in their respective fields. Successful NBALAB partners are awarded further product development and potential long-term licensing opportunities within the league.”

So far, so good. Among DudeRobe’s endorsers are NFL running backs AJ Dillon (Green Bay Packers) and Alexander Mattison (Minnesota Vikings).

Some of NBALAB’s notable partners include:

  • Pearl Street Caviar, a small New York company that produces caviar from sturgeon raised on an open-pen farm fed by wild waterways
  • Rastaclat, an apparel company that produces bracelets and eyeglasses emblazoned with NBA team logos
  • Cucu, a company that emblazons bank cards and electronic transit passes with NBA team logos
  • Authentic Sports Furnishings, which makes furniture products including the Big Man Barstool (emblazoned with an NBA logo) to round out the “ultimate man cave.”

So, the next time someone tries to tell you that it is impossible to build a business with an NBA affiliation due to the steep costs involved, tell them that DudeRobe proves otherwise.

And if they’re still skeptical, there’s a growing number of comfortable customers wearing plush robes with hoodies pulled over their heads who would respectfully disagree.

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