How 2 Chainz' 'Dabbin' Santa' Sweaters Became Booming Business and Redefined Merchandising

Joe Moore
2 Chainz

2 Chainz pockets ran deeper this holiday season after he launched an "ugly" Christmas sweater line in November. The Atlanta rapper, born Tauheed Epps, raked in $2 million on the strength of his merchandising push, a fiscal coup that he did not -- surprise -- accomplish alone. Enter Charlie Jabaley, 2 Chainz' co-manager and co-owner of Chainz' management company Street Execs and Micah Katz, founder of merchandising company CapThat. Three to four months prior to the sweater line's release on Nov. 20, e-commerce titan Shopify had recommended CapThat to Jabaley and his team.

When the two connected, Katz recalls Jabaley's inspiring "marathon" speech about the process of artist merchandise.

"[Jabaley] analogized it to a marathon, where we’re gonna try things and we’re gonna train, not only in terms of how we’re constantly thinking about merch but also creating trends to look for," recalls Katz, who founded L.A.-based CapThat in 2010 and flourished in the tech/merch space after allowing fans to take screen grabs from their favorite artists' music videos -- past collaborators include Demi LovatoMachine Gun Kelly and Coldplay -- and turn it into products like t-shirts and socks. "I remember going back to the team and being like, 'Wow, we have our first real partner.'" (Jabaley's business strategy was literally marathon-based -- he ran two in 2015.)

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A week before the holiday sweater line was born, Jabaley, Katz and their two teams began with a black t-shirt and cover art from Chainz' 2012 Def Jam debut Based on a T.R.U. Story and ended up with an assortment of "ugly" sweaters -- Dabbing Santa and Mrs. Claus and '2 Chainz Weed Ugly' among them --  inspired by that album's design. Several shops birthed during that experimentation process also went live, including shopmalcolmx.com and theshaderoomstore.com. The design for Dabbing Santa, though, came to them at 8AM one morning, when the team was pitching and sharing trend-based ideas that would make sense for 2 Chainz' fanbase. By 1PM a product photo was posted online before a single sweatshirt was even printed. "Before we even had a product in hand, we put it up for sale -- just a product photo," Jabaley recalls. "We already did 100 to 150,000 in sales before there was one even printed up."

Over a 31-day period that included Thanksgiving and Christmas, the sweater line had raked in a whopping $2 million. Several factors could explain why 2 Chainz' holiday merch rolled in the dough. For one, Jabaley opted for a smaller, independent merchandising company, CapThat, to meet the demand that a larger retailer might not have been able to handle. Secondly, there was no inventory, which helped keep the team's creative juices flowing. "That whole concept of not having to buy inventory out the gate allows me the freedom to create because not every design is gonna be a hit," Jabaley said. "You still want to be able to shoot some bullets and give it a shot but in the old merch system, if [products] don’t sell, you have a whole bunch of stuff sitting on the shelf and then that makes you not want to roll out any new product. Next thing you know, your store has shirts that are nine months old and nobody cares about it."

The biggest key, as DJ Khaled would put it, was capitalizing on a timely trend -- the Dab dance, which originated in 2 Chainz' native Atlanta from rap group Migos. "Somebody was gonna do 'Dabbin' Santa,' it was inevitable," said Jabaley. The same tactic of jumping on a trend has been employed by the likes of Drake, whose lint-rolling courtside at a 2014 Toronto Raptors-Brooklyn nets game not only launched a thousand GIFs but his own line of OVO/ Raptors-branded lint rollers

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Additionally, 2 Chainz had a 70-plus person team, comprised of many who worked the holidays in three shifts daily to meet the high demand. This included marketers that logged 20 hours a day, optimizing online ads across all platforms -- not just "2 Chainz posting on Instagram." A pop up shop was also set up on Atlanta's popular Peter Street, a 100,000 square-foot space owned by the rapper, often used for that purpose. "After 'Dabbin Santa' took off, we opened the store and there were 300 people lined up down the street," said Jabaley. "It was incredible."

According to Jabaley, 85 percent of the earnings were attributed to the popularity of the "Dabbin' Santa" sweater. The sale of other designs -- like the "Dabbin' Mrs. Claus" and the Hanukkah sweaters -- accounted for the remaining 15 percent. “100 percent of the $2 million revenue came from merchandising,” Jabley said of the sweater line, which 2 Chainz heavily promoted with appearances on ABC's Good Morning America, ESPN and TNT, as well as on his social media channels. Chainz even played Santa himself (in the Dabbin Santa sweater, of course) by tying in his charity, the T.R.U. Foundation, to give back to families in need, including paying for furniture and a year's rent for a disabled veteran. Some of the proceeds from the $2 million revenue also went to charity.

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Athletes and celebrities supported the cause, too. The Carolina Panthers ordered 95 sweaters themselves, while the team's star quarterback Cam Newton -- known for his on-the-field Dabbin' victory dances -- also placed an order. Other notables like Jeremih, football broadcaster Jimmy Johnson, Amber Rose and Black-ish star Anthony Anderson also rocked their "Dabbin' Santa" sweaters on-air or on photo maps.

Now, with Jabaley as an official co-owner/ partner in CapThat, bringing their innovative merchandising process to the entertainment industry -- including artists, actors, athletes and businesses -- is their mission for 2016. Their latest product line, launched on Jan. 1, dubbed CEO Millionaires, is meant to "bring young entrepreneurs together," a perfect tag line for CapThat and Street Execs' partnership. "It’s going to be a lot of experimentation and trial-and-error," said Katz of the collaboration, "and having Street Execs as part of this, is really gonna be exciting to see how that plays out."