In the field of psychology, one motivational theory that has stood the test of time is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is often depicted pyramid broken up into several tiers. Each tier is a level of human needs. The goal is to work your way from the bottom tier, which are basic needs (air, water, food, shelter, etc.), to the top where a person achieves self-actualization or the realization/fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities. Not everyone makes it to self-actualization, but those who do are consumed with the desire to become the most that one can be.
One person who is well on his way to the top of the pyramid (if he’s not there already) is serial entrepreneur and insatiable hustler Jay Turlz from the Cold Springs section of Buffalo, New York. Through his relentless grind and resourcefulness, Jay has built an ever-growing, thriving sportswear brand called Guaggi. The brand’s logo, a tiered pyramid with a trophy fixed atop, is representative of Jay’s journey to self-actualization and he has plans of one day competing with giants like Nike, Adidas, Puma and Under Armour. Regardless, the early success of Guaggi has afforded Jay a life free of working a 9-to-5. “I ain’t had a job since I was 18,” Jay told Don Diva when he sat down for an exclusive interview. “It’s cool for other people, but $8, $9, $10 an hour just don’t sit right with me. I always needed to make my own money. I don’t wanna work 40 hours and then wait for you to pay me in two weeks when I could just get this money right now doing shit I like to do.”
At first glance, the word Guaggi may look like an attempt at a fancy Italian designer name. It’s far from that. Guaggi is the acronym for Jay’s daily mantra, “Get up and go get it.” If you’re on social media, there’s a chance you’ve seen Guaggi adorning some of the brightest celebrities on the urban market, such as Jadakiss, Benny The Butcher, Da Baby and Jess Hilarious. You’ve definitely seen it if you follow Desi Banks. The comedian wore Guaggi’s now-sold-out Berries & Butter Retro 88 tracksuit in an Instagram sketch that garnered over a million views. Even more people were tuned in and spent some money when Guaggi had its “Sporty Forty” sale earlier this month, which was for limited edition tracksuits for $40. If you would’ve asked Jay years ago if he’d be selling coveted garments to the public at a high rate, he wouldn’t believe you. “I was always a fly nigga, but I didn’t think this would happen,” he said.
He surely couldn’t envision his life as a fashion designer around 2005. Back then, as a teen in high school, he lived the life of an illegal gun dealer and stickup kid. That didn’t last because Jay ended up getting arrested along with some of his homies. Since he was only 17 at the time, Jay was charged as a youthful offender and given probation. That wouldn’t be his last time on the wrong side of the law. In 2008, while a student at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, he caught a gun charge and was forced to sit down for a whole summer until his mother could bail him out. The judge allowed him to go back and forth to school and in the end, he was sentenced to time served.
The judge put a condition on Jay’s sentencing that he graduate from college. This stipulation is what fueled Jay to finish school and birthed in him the desire to “Get up and go get it.” He condensed the saying into the acronym and started using it on social media as a motivational tool for himself and his followers. “It’s a common saying, but how I put it together I can’t even figure out the first thought,” Jay reflected. “I was focused on school and whatever paper I could get on the side. Legal shit.”
Jay would go on to undertake a number of legal hustles to make money to support himself. He ran a cleaning business and through that, he acquired two contracts to clean Chili’s restaurants. Needing all the bread from the contracts for himself, he didn’t have a crew. Every night, he’d clean two restaurants dolo during the wee hours.
Around 2010, Jay also acted as a party promoter with his friend OJ Barker and this relationship would be pivotal in hiss journey. Jay and OJ were talking on the phone one day and decided to monetize Jay’s “Guaggi” slogan by putting it on hats. When the hats were introduced to the market, the people ate them up. “The hats were going,” said Jay. “Every time we’d get a batch, they’d go.”
After the hats started selling, buyers started demanding t-shirts to match. Since many were starting t-shirt lines around this time, Jay thought it was a good idea. Instead of doing cheap transfers or paying an arm and a leg for screen printing, Jay cut out the middleman and made himself the source by buying a vinyl cutting machine to print up his designs. He’d grab t-shirts from H&M or Old Navy, then self-applied his vinyl designs. He didn’t have a heat-press at the time, so he did the unthinkable and used an iron! He even branched out and started pressing up tees for other people’s businesses. “I’m all about getting as close to the plug as I can so we can cut out all the unnecessary expenses,” Jay explained. “I know them shits were falling off quick, but I grinded it up from there.”
Grind it up he did. Eventually, Jay leveled up and got a heat press. He’d press up shirts, post them on social media and then take orders through DM’s. He turned it into a full-time grind when he hit the road with his product. Jay had moved to Charlotte, but was back and forth between there and Buffalo at least twice a month pumping tees. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent pressing up shirts. He’d load up the trunk in his rental car with 40-50 premade tees and a few blanks and drive up on Thursday night, then spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday driving around to various gas stations, selling tees to strangers. He took similar trips to Atlanta. “At this point, it was a whole lot of people that didn’t know about Guaggi,” said Jay. “I was bugging a little bit, but that’s where I met a lot of people. To this day, people I met at gas stations are still copping from me.”
Jay’s constant social media promotion (with content documenting his grind) and business trips helped the brand to grow exponentially. He went on to make $1,000-$1,200 in a three-day span selling shirts this way. He also enjoyed the patronage of his national network of friends from Johnson C. Smith spanning New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, the DMV, the Carolinas, Atlanta, California and Florida. As the grind grew, so did Guaggi’s merchandise. Jay developed the Guaggi logo so that he could put other slogans on the tees and keep the brand’s identity. His first hit was a ringer t-shirt with the words “Bread Winner” fashioned after Buffalo-based baker Wonder Bread’s branding. The “a” in “Bread” was the Guaggi logo. He struck fire again when he released merch featuring his “Figure It Out” Rubik’s cube. “That’s honestly how I built this shit,” stated Jay. “It just started catching fire with me being consistent. Not a day off. Every day you’re gonna see this Guaggi on your social media.”
Jay also promotes by rocking exclusive Guaggi fits every day, sometimes changing during the day into a new, never-before-seen Guaggi ensemble. “Niggas not gonna catch me dead without this shit on,” Jay declared. “How you got this clothing line you say you working crazy on and I could spot you four or five times a week without it on? That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Guaggi has since evolved from just vinyl-pressed tees into including fully embroidered tracksuits, jackets, coats, joggers and hats. Though Guaggi has been categorized by observers as “streetnic,” Jay insists that you don’t label the brand as streetwear. “I hate the word streetwear. I don’t use that at all,” Jay expressed. “If you put all of it together, I like to think of this shit as Nautica or Polo.”
When asked what goes into building a successful brand, Jay surmised, “For one, consistency. Two, I believed. Three is vision. In my lane, I feel like people just jump in it because they see other successful brands and think they can make a quick dollar. It’s not a one or two year thing. This is a 50, 60, 70-year thing for me.”
When it comes to what Guaggi has planned next, the founder revealed, “Expect us to really corner the sportswear market. Expect more fire. We got working capital, we got designs and we got manufacturers. I feel those are three key pieces to move forward. Expect to see Guaggi in your city if you haven’t already.”