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10 Oct

Chris Cota – Skingraft Designs

“I love building from the ground up. Every little detail that goes into something, while creating the feeling and culture around it.”


Creator Profile:

Chris Cota + SKINGRAFT

Creator: Chris Cota

Company:  SkinGraft Designs (@skingraft #skingraft)

Location: 758 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90014

Website: SkinGraftDesigns.com

Words of Wisdom – “The business of business is changing. We all have to be media companies now – Constant content creators.


Goth Rock. Street wear for the fashion forward. Edgy Luxury.

These are all just a few ways to describe SkinGraft Designs, a fashion forward brand based in L.A. that is in my opinion, the first real brand to pioneer street wear.

Trust me, you’ve seen their line. Kanye West, Rhianna, Britney Spears, Will.I.Am and my favorite business impresario Jay-Z, have all donned SkinGraft Designs. Not to mention casts of True Blood and the Hunger Games.

I had the chance to sit down with Chris Cota, CFO and brother of the founder of SkinGraft Designs, Jonny Cota. He is also a Thunderbird alum, which is the primary reason I was able to meet him four years ago.

Listening to Chris’ story should be a mandated rule for any budding entrepreneur looking to succeed, especially in the high-flying fashion world.

As we sat in a chill, but urban-swanky (yes, that’s a new word) downtown L.A. bar, Chris talked about taking chances, fashion industry, the changing environments of the business landscape and using student loans to fund SkinGraft Designs.


Video Cred: Royal Studios – RoyalStudiosLA.com

HDF: Thanks again for allowing me to sit with you and learn more about you, SkinGraft Designs and your overall journey.

Chris – No problem at all!


HDF: You joined SkinGraft right out of getting your MBA versus going the corporate route. Is that something you always knew you wanted to do? Can you tell me how your transition into SkinGraft came into being?

Chris – How far back can I go?


HDF: All the way. The beginning. (laughter)

Chris: Well, prior to SkinGraft and my MBA, I had always been fascinated with travel. My motto for many years was to travel, get paid for it and be around sexy people, so I guess it was just a matter of time.

Years back I was traveling in Asia and I had just returned to San Francisco. I had my hair down to here (motioning a decent length). I immediately went and got cleaned up and got a recruiter job. I hated it. I thought I was having a quarter life crisis at the time.

I’m walking down the street all suited up after work one day, when I saw this restaurant was hiring for a bartender job prior to opening for business. I walked in, inquired about the job, they saw the suit and I got hired. They opened it up and after two years I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to do restaurants.’

The owners recognized I made them a lot of money, gave me a huge bonus and then sent me on vacation to come back and help them grow and build more restaurants. It did it for a couple more restaurants, but then I felt I was ready for something new. I decided to go back and get my MBA, and Thunderbird was a perfect fit for being a school focusing on International Business.

I, like everyone else, got student loans, attended school and then thought I had to go corporate like everyone else. I very quickly realized that wasn’t going to work for me. I’m not corporate material. At the time, my brother Jonny was already creating one-of-a-kind outfits for musicians and shows, and I really admired what he was doing. I gave him $10K of my student loans to help him.

Graduation came and I literally left the next day for Shanghai to help my brother grow his company. This was all new to me, and I literally had two machines to work with to make more clothes with. Again, this was paid for by my student loans.

                  Skingraft – 758 Spring St. Downtown LA

                            Jay-Z   Skingraft

Jay-Z Skingraft Designs

                           Photo Cred: Courtesy of @skingraftdesigns Instagram


HDF: Well, I’d say your student loans went to good use.

Chris: Yeah, it’s crazy to think about because now we have 50 employees in Bali and another 20 in Java. I mean, when I first went there, we were operating very lean.


HDF: That is an awesome journey that I feel most entrepreneurs need to hear. Is the fashion world everything you thought it would be? Do you like working with some of the artists that wear your line?

Chris:  The fashion world is ‘interesting’. I mean, there are aspects I really like about it, such as the ability to constantly create and grow a brand based on what I think is cool and how you should dress. I also really like factory life, but I don’t necessarily like being responsible for all these lives. Like in Bali, these are people whose families I’m supporting.

As for the artists, some can be cool and others not so much.


HDF: Maybe we should just focus on the cool? Lol

Chris: (laughter) Yeah, probably. It’s mostly about dealing with celebrities’ teams. Of course, we’ve interacted with the celebrities as well, but I mostly deal with their teams.


HDF: Such as?

Chris: June Ambrose, Jay-Z’s stylist. She’s cool and knows her shit. We’ve dealt with the Hunger Games and True Blood teams as well. They’re awesome, and totally get us. Will.I.Am is a really great fan of SkinGraft and Rhianna is really cool to deal with. She’s always very chill.


HDF: What’s the hardest part about the fashion world?

Chris: Several things. First, Everyone in the fashion world is ditching their PR and going digital.


HDF: You already know how we feel about that! (Smiling)

Chris: Well, the digital world has really shaped brands in the way they interact with their core customers and their customers’ networks. The business of business is changing. We all essentially need to be our own media companies now.

The hardest part about social media is the launching of new lines. Before, you would have fashion shows take place 6-7 months before it’s available on the shelves. Now fashion shows are taking place with people following in “real time”. That means global audiences know what’s hot now and can copy much quicker.

Copying has always existed and at the end it’s quality that counts to me, but this new social paradigm we’re in has changed the way we look at collections. In the past, we would have collections put out several times a year. Now the pressure is on to always show something new and equate that to immediate sales. Hence, collections no longer exist. It’s about putting out 5-6 new pieces each month and growing your brand with your target audiences.

Second, the fashion industry is a non-stop knowing of what’s cool. In the beginning it was always about what brands are above us since we’re making a name for ourselves. Now that we’ve established ourselves in the market a bit, it’s about who’s above us and who’s below us that’s coming up. In fact, some of these new brands come on the scene so fast because of digital media that their sales go crazy instantly. Now that I’m further along in this stuff, I’m getting tired of having to always worry what’s cool since people are changing faster than ever before.

      @KidInkBatGang & @JimmyKimmel

                @Angel_le_bon   Skingraft

 Photo Cred: Courtesy of @skingraftdesigns Instagram

HDF: What’s the best part about creating for you?

Chris: I love building from the ground up. Every little detail that goes into something, while creating the feeling and culture around it. I also like creating spaces. I designed the store in NYC. I love physical spaces. In the end, I like knowing I’m creating the culture between the stores, the social media the staff, the shows, I’m building and shaping the world around me.


HDF: Is there any advice you’d give to entrepreneurs or potential entrepreneurs?

Chris: Yeah. Be willing to go outside your comfort zone and do something that truly interests you. Remember, you’re always in building mode. I’m still in building mode. I haven’t slept in 5 years (Laughter), but I love that I’m building something great. Once it’s settled, I’ll have more of a calendar. For now, I’m just growing the company to it’s next phase. Something I’ve always done with companies.


HDF: Chris, I’ve been following you for 4, almost 5 years, and you’ve done an amazing job with SkinGraft Designs. Every time people reference edgy luxury gear today, I constantly remind them that you guys were one of the first. I truly thank you for giving me the time to hear your story.

Chris: Thank you! It’s really appreciated.


Photo Cred: Courtesy of @skingraftdesigns Instagram

Video Cred: Courtesy of Royal Studios – RoyalStudiosLA.com

Matt Gottesman

Matt Gottesman is a global digital strategist and technology advisor, creator and editor-in-chief of Hustle & Deal Flow™ - an online magazine dedicated to the world's entrepreneurs, creators and makers, a Social Media Influencer and a consultant on New Media and go-to-market strategies for investments in digital marketing, technology, websites, mobile applications, eCommerce, social media and content.

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