It’s hard to imagine that an old black cap found at the bottom of a barrel is the inspiration for what has become in the past decade one of Canada’s thriving hat shops.
Sorting through a container of T-shirts, Dameion Royes stumbled upon the lone piece of headwear. Fond of stylish urban caps and hats, the Jamaican immigrant turned his find and fetish into a successful business – Big it Up – which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary with a fundraising cultural show featuring local talent.
While studying Business Administration at Humber College, Royes sold his car to fund a skin cream lotion enterprise which was his first business venture. With no money to advertise, his cousin and business partner, Paulene Harvey, suggested they turn to grassroots promotion by selling T-shirts with “Big it Up” emblazoned on them.
“We were struggling, but the cap discovery turned on a light bulb in our heads and made us start to think,” recalled Royes. “Sometimes the most amazing things emerge from the absurd and I can truly attest to that. There were some (his mother included) who thought the name was too Jamaican for a respectable business. I said no way….the name feels right and it was a solid way to showcase our culture. It was bold, but we went for it.”
The name is derived from the Jamaican term “big up” which is a popular saying for “what’s up”, and a gesture of tribute.
There was a time when basketball – not business – was Royes’ only love and passion.
Coming to Canada at age seven to reunite with his mother who migrated five years earlier, Royes aspired to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Those hopes were dashed in his senior Grade at Martingrove Collegiate Institute when he found himself being relegated to the end of the bench. Believing that his skin colour, and not his basketball skills, was the real reason for not getting playing time on the court, Royes became disillusioned and angry.
“Basketball had been my sanctuary and now I was faced with the fact that I was losing my dream,” Royes once said. “I was angry at everyone and everything and I walked around in that negative cloud for close to three years before the voice of my junior Grade coach began coming back to me.”
In addition to teaching basketball, that coach had made it his duty to let his players know that attitude would get them wherever they needed to go.
Royes remembered that and used it as a compass to steer in a business direction. His company, which has sold over a million pieces of headwear, has stores in Eaton Centre, Vaughan Mills Mall, Square One, Yorkdale Mall and at Brimz located at 321 Queen St. West.
Celebrities such as Wyclef Jean, Hayden Christiansen, Naomi Campbell, Cameron Diaz, Usher and celebrated Canadian artists K’naan and Kardinal Offishal proudly wear Big it Up headwear.
The company’s 58 Spadina Ave. head office appeared in Kardinal Offishal’s The Anthem video and the “Big it Up” logo was on the hat that K’naan wore for his 2010 World Cup soccer promotion.
While at last year’s Juno awards in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador, K’naan realized he did not have a white fedora to match the outfit he wanted to appear in on stage to receive his Artist and Songwriter of the Year awards.
“He put in a request for the fedora and two other hats about 36 hours before the show began,” recalled Royes. “Most couriers don’t work on the weekends while the very few we found did not go as far as St. John’s. We however did manage to find one which was able to pass it on to another carrier and the hats arrived just in time for him to make his grand appearance.”
While Royes is extremely proud of his business success over the years, he takes special joy in the fact that he has been able to enrich the lives of young people and the less fortunate.
“I firmly believe in giving back in real and meaningful ways,” said the 39-year-old entrepreneur. “When young people are empowered, they can discover their talents and soar like eagles.”
Through his company, Royes provides bursaries and job opportunities for youths. In the past, he supported Frontier College’s adult literacy program, donated a printer to the Umoja Learning Centre and provided winter clothing to shelters.
All of the proceeds from the recent fundraiser went to the “Youth in Time” initiative he and Harvey established for young people diagnosed with cancer. Working in collaboration with Princess Margaret Hospital, the project creates peer group interaction through the use of creative and artistic workshops.
When asked what has contributed to Big it Up success, especially in these economically challenging times, he said he has had to be more tactical, creative and exercise caution.
“We spend a lot of time ensuring that our products fit our clients properly,” he said. “It’s not good enough to create something that looks right. It has to fit well and it has to be worn well. Once you can come up with a product that looks good and fits well, you have done well. It also helps that we have a tight-knit staff.”
Big it Up headwear can also be purchased online at http://www.bigitup.com/home.php and at specialty retailers across Canada.