Trying to turn what you love into how you make a living is a tough thing to do. It’s turned more than a few people bitter, but you won’t find that with Brett Conti. When he got injured skating, he decided to start his own company out of his dorm room. He took every last cent he had and invested in himself, even when that meant every meal was a 99 cent slice at the local pizzeria. As they say, hard work pays off. Now the founder of Fortune NY handles running a full-time business, and just for fun does a weekly vlog recording his experiences and passing on life lessons. We’re proud to be giving him a dedicated channel on our website coming soon. To help you get better acquainted, we sat down with him to do an interview after skating around LES.
Name: Brett Conti
For those who don’t know, tell us a little about Fortune NY and how you got started.
Fortune is a clothing company, I started it out of my dorm room just over three years ago. I got hurt skating and I wanted to do something productive with my time since I couldn’t skate. So I started sewing and making hats and pocket tees. After I had the products I was like why don’t I make a brand and start hooking up my friends. That’s how it started and became what it is now.
Did you alway know how to sew and run a business or was that the first time you experimented with it?
Yeah, I went to school for marketing and finance. I felt those would be the two most important factors in starting a business. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and do something creative. I wanted to do something where I could see the results, you know sometimes when you work for a large corporation you can’t always see yourself getting much out of it.
I try and focus on always creating entertainment that’s real, makes you want to go skate, and live your life.
My grandfather owned a textile company so I learned how to do that from a young age. I think I was the only kid in college with a sewing machine in their dorm room [laughs]. I went to college at FIT after and perfected my sewing on button-ups and other men’s apparel.
So before getting into that you had a skate career. When & how did you start skating?
I started skating super young. I was like 6 years old, my older cousin Chad was a big skateboarder and he started bringing me around with his friends. I was this little 8-year-old kid skating around with him and his friends who were 6 years older than me. Their level of skating really pushed me so by the time I was 11 years old I was getting hooked up by local companies and skating contests. When I was like 14 I got hooked up by Globe and blind and bigger sponsors. I was doing Tampa Am… I think I was one of the first and only kids from NY in my generation skating Tampa Am which was a big deal, coming from a little town in Long Island you know.
Who did you ride for when you first went to Tampa Am?
The first one was through Blind & Globe actually. Dwindle hooked that up. I honestly hate contests but my friends used to make fun of me and call me Brett Contesti (laughs). We were in middle school and I was skipping school and going around the country skating all these contests like Damn Am and stuff. Even back then I loved to travel so I would have that as my excuse, I’d stay a few extra days and just check out these new cities. I’ve been to Atlanta, the first time I went to Cali was for Costa Mesa Dm Am, Tampa, Phoenix Am, and a few more. It was cool being so young and getting paid to go around the country. I get so scared during contests and get the shakes or whatever but it was still a great experience.
What’s been your favorite trip so far?
I’d say Japan. I really love Japan. What made it was the people, especially the skateboarders. They are so caring and respectful they really treat you the way you would want to be treated. They welcome you and are like “Oh you’re from New York?!” They give you presents and everything. They really value friendship, I don’t know, it was just overall amazing. The skating too, so many spots. It’s a shame that you can only skate street at night because you get kicked out of everywhere. But there’s good parks and stuff. Japan’s just so advanced technologically…I don’t know, everyone needs to go to Japan!
Since we’re bringing you onto the site and giving you a channel for your vlog’s and stuff, do you want to talk about that and how that’s been going so far?
Yeah, so I’ve had a YouTube channel since 2006 and I always loved it to post my skateboard videos but I wasn’t active on it for a long time. Living in New York I don’t have cable, that’s just another bill added on, nor do I like television. Most programs on television are just a distraction. With YouTube you can tell a real story while creating meaningful content. I try and focus on always creating entertainment that’s real, makes you want to go skate, and live your life. Within the past couple of years, I have experienced a lot and YouTube is a great platform for me to share my perspectives and answer viewers questions via videos.
It has been growing faster every day. Especially since I made the change from once a week to every other day. Even earlier today at LES I had a kid come up and ask if he could be in my vlog and I always appreciate people who enjoy my videos. I put hours of work every night into them.
You’re 99 years old on your deathbed. If you could go back to today, what would you do differently?
Once things start to get popular on the internet and gain a following like yours has, you get labeled as an influencer in the social media field. What’s your take on that?
That’s why I always loved YouTube and is what motivated me. Watching other YouTubers and seeing what opportunity that brought them. That’s what I live for, new opportunities and experiencing different things. I feel like YouTube is the perfect way to do that and it’s my favorite social media because you can really tell stories and share messages. You can have a photo and a long caption on Instagram but it’s not the same. The engagement behind a 10-minute video is substantial.
Has this been the biggest year for you as far as with Fortune is concerned?
Yeah. So I graduated college two years ago and after I was like “Ok, I’m gonna give myself three years and if I’m still sleeping on a couch maybe I’m going to have to look at other options but I’m going to give it three years and give it my all.”
That’s exactly what I did, I emptied out my bank account. I have a screenshot where I have $0.06 in my account after putting everything into Fortune. You know, it was making decent money in local stores and online, I had a strong belief I could succeed. Then only after one year of sleeping on a couch and eating dollar pizza it finally started to become profitable and now I can say I make a full living off of it. I’m able to hire designers and now taking care of skaters. Like if Chris Pierre or Carlo need money for a contest it’s like “You’ve been down with the brand forever, no problem.” It’s nice that friends that have supported me since day one I can now turn around and support them. Not that it’s the biggest brand but it’s definitely at least profitable now.
That’s the kind of opportunity and good stuff in the skate community. What’s your opinion on the skate community right now?
It’s cool to see people moving to New York now to make it instead of everyone having to move to California. People are starting to see what an amazing and influential city this is.
What’s your goal with the vlog and having a channel on NYSkateboarding, being able to reach out to people in such a direct way?
First off, I want to say I’ve always had so much respect for NYSkateboarding.com ever since Rick started it over six years ago, I was so happy someone did something like that. It’s why I started my YouTube channel. I saw something I wanted to see others do and was like why not just do it myself? It’s cool that Rick saw that no one else had a dedicated to New York skateboarding site and went and made it happen. I respect that, that he saw this need before anyone else and did it. It’s really an honor to be working with NYSkateboarding.com.
I think I was so happy when you guys asked me to do this because I think we’re both on the same page in that we want to show the world what’s going on in New York skateboarding and share the amazing stories and people that live here with the world.
Doing the vlog, you’re obviously carrying around a camera and filming your life a lot more. Do you feel like you are experiencing what you are going through more or less since you’re looking through the screen a lot of the time?
Oh that’s a good question, everyone asks me about that. I’ve only gotten great feedback, people tell me they love watching it and have respect for it but a lot of times ask “don’t you feel like you’re missing out?” I’m like “no way!”, we’re skateboarders and we’re used to filming this much. It’s the same thing. It makes it more fun I think, it makes it an activity. I live for creating things, and that’s why I love making these videos. It’s so cool to go watch videos I made a few months ago and relive an awesome day. I’m still there when I’m recording, I’m definitely more in the moment if anything.
What would you like to say to the people you may be inspiring to do what you’re doing?
Kids will email me after watching my videos and ask me for advice. I try to get back to all of them and a lot of times they say “I want to start a clothing company or my own YouTube channel,” and I’ll say “what’s stopping you?” or “You’re 99 years old on your deathbed. If you could go back to today, what would you do differently?” It’s now or never, you know? If I ever have an idea and I believe in it I go for it. Why wait?
Along the way I’m sure you’ve had people inspire you and influence you. Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
Yeah, first I want to thank Chapman Skateboards, Gregg and Glenn… they’ve helped me out so much I would not be where I am now if it wasn’t for them. My cousin Chad Caruso for getting me into skateboarding. Everyone who helps me out with Fortune: Frank Nicado, Justin Vega, and Jordan Yasmineh. My family, Dillon Collins, Manny Santiago and of course NYSkateboarding.com
Welcome to the family, happy to have you on board.