Y2K fashion has come back and so has Baby Phat. Y2K fashion consists of low-waisted bottoms, tightly cropped tops, small handbags, velour tracksuits, etc. This fashion style was popular during the early 2000s, and Baby Phat was considered a Y2K staple. As Y2K fashion has roots in Black culture, it is special that Baby Phat has a Black founder and was popularized with the help of Black celebrities. In celebration of Black History Month, this article will be exploring Baby Phat’s journey and how they managed to come back right in time for the resurgence of Y2K fashion.
Baby Phat’s Founder – Kimora Lee Simmons
Kimora Lee Simmons founded Baby Phat in 1999. 11 years earlier, Kimora Lee started her career as a model at age 13 by signing a contract with Chanel and working under the famous designer, Karl Lagerfeld. In the fashion world at the time, there were not many mixed-race models or models of races other than Caucasian. As a woman of African-American and Japanese Korean heritage, Kimora Lee experienced difficulties. People said, “Well, what is she? Is she black, is she Asian? She’s not black enough, she’s not Asian enough.” Rather than letting these comments affect her, Kimora Lee continued modeling and ultimately paved the way for other mixed-race models in the fashion world. In addition to Chanel, she went on to model for other famous brands such as Fendi, Valentino, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and many more.
In 1998, she married Russell Simmons, the co-founder of hip-hop label Def Jam Recordings and founder of Phat Fashions. Phat Fashions/Phat Farm was founded in 1992 as an urban menswear brand. Phat Fashions tried expanding into women’s fashion by having a women’s t-shirt in the works. Kimora Lee saw the prototype and was not a fan of its look. She said the shirt was a “very athletic and basic, scaled-down version of what a guy would wear.” This inspired her to start Baby Phat as the urban womenswear parallel to Phat Farm.
Kimora Lee became Baby Phat’s designer and created collections all around herself. She made the logo a Siamese cat after her own Siamese cat, Max. She used her body shape as a guide and designed clothes she would personally wear. Baby Phat’s collections included earrings, puffer jackets, tops, jeans, shoes, and more. Baby Phat was a streetwear brand that allowed women to feel sexy, feminine, and confident.
Although a lot about the brand was centered around Kimora Lee, another reason why she created Baby Phat was for women, especially women of color. As a multiracial fashion model, she noticed that women of color “had no voice in the streetwear industry.” Kimora Lee wanted to change that by creating Baby Phat as a brand for women, by women.
Baby Phat in the Early 2000s
With Baby Phat’s connections to Phat Fashions and Kimora Lee’s reputation as a model, the brand caught the attention of a lot of celebrities in the music and fashion industries. Baby Phat held its first show in 2000 at New York Fashion Week. In attendance were Black female celebrities like Lil Kim, Aaliyah, and Janice Combs. It was mainly Black female musicians who wore Baby Phat. This consequently gave the brand the momentum to become mainstream in the 2000s.
Baby Phat’s Ties to Black Fashion
As a matter of fact, it was Baby Phat’s fashion shows at New York Fashion Week that put all eyes on Baby Phat. The shows were known as a celebration of black fashion. Not only were the clothes rooted in Black fashion and culture, but Kimora Lee also made sure to invite the Black community to the shows. She hired Black publicist, BJ Coleman, to invite Black magazine editors and Black celebrities, and they all sat in the front row at the shows. In addition to the earlier names, celebrities like Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, Jermaine Dupri, Nas, Kelis, Naomi Campbell, Seal and many more were present.
Baby Phat’s Continued Celebrity Support
In addition to attending the shows, celebrities and famous models also walked Baby Phat’s runway. Lil Kim walked at a Baby Phat show modeling lingerie with Baby Phat’s logo embellished on both pieces. Other notable models were Carmen Kass, Eza Herzigová, Alek Wek, and Devon Aoki. All of these models are of different races, ethnicities, and nationalities. Kimora Lee says she is “very deliberate” with her choice of runway models and “includes people who are sometimes forgotten but are great models. All colors, all women, all shapes and sizes.”
Clearly, Baby Phat had a lot of support from celebrities. In addition to attending and walking in Baby Phat shows, a long list of celebrities also endorsed the brand. The names include Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian West, Christina Milian, Britney Spears, Missy Elliott, Carrie Underwood, Paris Hilton, and Monica.
Ignoring the Haters
Despite all of the celebrity support Baby Phat received, it wasn’t viewed as high fashion due to its “lack of catering to the white bourgeois.” Kimora Lee also said that she felt that Baby Phat was called “urban” because it was mainly people of color working at the company. Ignoring all of these comments, Baby Phat went on to increase their revenue from $30 million to $265 million just in 2002. Even though Russell Simmons sold Phat Fashions to Kellwood for $140 million in 2004, Kimora decided to keep Baby Phat and stay as creative director. In 2005, Baby Phat started to go beyond clothing by launching a fragrance with Coty called “Baby Phat Goddess” and selling footwear, lingerie, children’s wear, interiors, and other products. In 2006, Kimora Lee became president of the company and was one of the first Black-Asian women to own a billion-dollar company.
What Happened to Baby Phat
Unfortunately, Baby Phat’s parent company, Kellwood, went through a lot of corporate changes that negatively affected the brand. On top of that, Y2K fashion died down by 2009. Baby Phat was unable to adapt to the following trends and styles of the new decade and held their last fashion shows in that same year. Kimora Lee was removed from Baby Phat in 2010, and the brand faded completely.
Baby Phat’s Relaunch
After 10 years of nothing from Baby Phat, Kimora Lee announced on International Women’s Day 2019 (March 8) that she bought back name rights to Baby Phat and that the brand would be relaunched. A few months later, Baby Phat released a collaboration with retailer Forever 21 on June 13, 2019. The collection included 18 pieces that consisted of bike shorts, crop tops, tube tops, mini skirts, and more. As Forever 21 is an affordable retailer, all of the pieces were priced under $25. The collaboration was well-received and sold out almost immediately on Forever 21’s website. This collaboration was just a teaser for what Baby Phat would drop on their own moving forward. At this point, there was anticipation for further Baby Phat releases.
On December 6, 2019, a surprise collection was dropped on Baby Phat’s website. It was teased on Baby Phat’s Instagram account a few days before the drop. The 17-piece collection included the iconic velour tracksuits, oversized hoodies, a reflective windbreaker jacket, windbreaker shorts, and tank tops with the classic bedazzled logo. Everything was priced between $70 and $300, and sizes range from XS-XXXL. From the looks of it, Baby Phat was getting back to its roots.
Two years after the first official relaunch, Baby Phat dropped a holiday collection on December 15, 2021. The collection was strictly sold through Macy’s website and in Macy’s stores across the United States. The collection had 40 styles and included a lot of what was seen in the Forever 21 collaboration and in the Baby Phat relaunch. The prices ranged from $40-$130. Kimora Lee says that the Macy’s collaboration is “a full-circle moment” for her because Baby Phat was sold at Macy’s in the past and is now back at the retailer.
Baby Phat is selling a lot of the classic, early 2000s Y2K pieces they used to sell back in the day to keep true to the original image of the brand. However, they have learned to adapt to new styles as well. Even though Y2K is back, it is not the exact same as it was 10-20 years ago. Baby Phat knows this, which is why they are not relying on just the velour tracksuits and the tees with the bedazzled cat logo as their gateway back into the industry. They have other pieces like puffer jackets, bodycon dresses, bodysuits, and many variations of tiny tops.
Baby Phat is also working on expanding past clothing by adding footwear and lingerie to the brand again. A completely new development for Baby Phat is the beauty line Kimora Lee is currently working on. Makeup is also a key part of the Y2K style, so it seems like a smart venture for Baby Phat to branch into.
The brand is mainly being promoted by Kimora Lee and her daughters Ming Lee and Aoki Lee. All three are the models for the campaigns. By having all three model the brand, they add onto the sentiment that Baby Phat is for women, women of color, millennials, and Gen Z. They don’t have any celebrity endorsements or ambassadors like they did in the past. However, with Y2K becoming popular again, celebrities are embracing the style. There could possibly be celebrity collaborations with Baby Phat in the future. These celebrity collaborations could potentially bring Baby Phat back into the limelight like how they once did.
As of now, Baby Phat can only be bought at Forever 21 and Macy’s. Both places target different age groups. Forever 21 aims more at a younger demographic of teens and young adults, while Macy’s targets middle-class women. In this way, Baby Phat gets to attract Gen Z who may have never heard of or worn Y2K fashion and the millennials that remember the style and want to relive the nostalgia by wearing it again. From the looks of it, Baby Phat will continue expanding into other retailers that most likely target those two groups.
As mentioned earlier, Baby Phat is being sold at a range of prices. Forever 21 is where it can be bought at the most affordable price, while products bought directly from Baby Phat’s website will cost more. Macy’s stands at the middle of the two. This large range is effective because it lets consumers know that they can get Baby Phat for a price that suits them. For Gen Z who may not have $300 to spend on one Baby Phat item, they can buy a Baby Phat item at Forever 21. For consumers who want the truest of true Baby Phat and are willing to spend more to get it, they can buy from the Baby Phat website when they drop their collections.
For consumers, old brands coming back is something that is always pleasing to hear, especially for those who knew about the brand and loved them in the past. For the brands themselves, it can be quite difficult for them to get back to where they once were, especially if they are like Baby Phat and disappeared completely. Without Y2K fashion making a comeback, Baby Phat might not have had a shot at relaunching as well. Regardless of if Baby Phat will achieve the same success as they had in the past, Baby Phat has a great history of being one of the brands that popularized Y2K fashion and showcased the beauty of women and people of color from the very beginning. Baby Phat has also become multigenerational in terms of their leadership and their fanbase, with Kimora Lee’s daughters now helping her out and Gen Z being very interested in Y2K fashion. This article detailed the history of Baby Phat, how they were able to come back to the fashion world, and their current marketing strategies.