Entrepreneur’s message: ‘refuse to be labeled’

Marc Eckō realized his life passion in the eighth grade, painting T-shirts in the family garage.

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One of Marc Ecko’s T-shirt designs

At age 20, after a brief attempt at a traditional educational path at Rutgers University, Eckō decided to go back to that passion. He founded his own T-shirt company in 1993 with only $5,000. Today, the entrepreneur and venture capitalist owns a billion-dollar global fashion and lifestyle enterprise.

He spoke about his journey Tuesday at the monthly Ed Sessions 2.0 luncheon; his audience included educators, business leaders and high school students from Nampa’s Idaho Arts Charter School.

His messages included:

  • Be very in tune with what you’re good at and what you’re not good at.
  • Honesty is like water; it always gets through.
  • Get high on your own supply of hubris.

“It was very inspiring for me,” said Idaho Arts Charter senior Anai Lugo-Pedraza. “As an artist and a musician, you have to evolve but be true to yourself.”

Eckō is the CEO and a founder of Artists & Instigators and the founder and chief creative officer of Marc Eckō Enterprises, a company that owns Complex Magazine (circulation of 340,000), a contemporary menswear line and a social gaming company. Ecko became famous in social media circles from a 2006 hoax where he faked tagging Air Force One. The YouTube video has more than 800,000 hits.

“My first T-shirt of a guy smoking grass sold millions,” Eckō told the crowd. “I was in the right place at the right time.”

Just this month, he published his first book “Unlabel” that out lines his five keys to success:

  1. Be a creator and an artist.
  2. Sell without selling out. Never feel bad about successfully selling your creations and never feel bad about creating art you can’t sell.
  3. Create wealth that matters and wealth that matters cannot be counted. “Quit counting,” he said, “because greatness goes beyond a compliance standard.”
  4. Be an unlabel. When you refuse to be labeled you play by your own rules, not theirs. “Do we exist for our pomp and ceremony or for our actions and impact?”
  5. Authenticity. It’s about the pursuit and not the destination. Use a unique voice and have the capacity for change.

“We pound the artist out of people,” said University of Idaho professor Jeff Brooks, reflecting on Eckō‘s presentation.

Eckō asked the crowd to rethink the way America educates kids and to encourage taking a different or “crooked” path instead of the established and “straight” path.

“I would compare the education industry with the BlackBerry — an inefficient product,” Eckō said. “There needs to be an urgency to make changes.”

Disclaimer: Idaho Education news and the Ed Sessions 2.0 are both funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.