In the first of our new series on believers who are leaders in the marketplace, we look at Jerry Lorenzo, the founder and designer of American luxury streetwear brand Fear of God, a Christ-led business that stands shoulder to shoulder with the giants.
You would have seen the words “Fear of God” or “FG” or “77” on some hipster’s T-shirt, some hipster being Justin Bieber or one of the members of BTS. You would also have seen the word “Essentials” on T-shirts and hoodies—this is the secondary line—worn by Kanye West or Selena Gomez.
You would be forgiven, if you’re not a streetwear enthusiast or fashion follower, for thinking that Fear of God is just another fashion label using God’s name in vain (for example Imitation Of Christ). But this could not be further from the truth.
Fear of God founder and designer Jerry Lorenzo is a Christian and he does not apologise for it. On the other hand, he does not flog it as a selling point.
“If someone asks me how Christianity fits into it, it just fits because it’s a part of who I am. But this is not a Christian clothing brand. It’s not, ‘Hey, this is about Jesus!’” he said in a 2016 interview with multi-brand retailer Ssense. “Although as my brand has grown beyond my expectation, I naturally only want to give glory to Him for my success, if you want to call it that. Success to me is the fact that I can come to a meeting in my workout clothes. That’s success!”
The name “Fear of God” came out of an encounter he had with the Lord. In that same interview, Lorenzo said, “I was doing a morning meditation with my parents in Northern California, and we started talking about the clouds and darkness around the kingdom of God. Righteousness is the foundation of His throne. And for the first time, I saw God as a very cool figure. Growing up in Christianity, God was always a light figure. Also, growing up with Christianity, my Christian friends and me were never considered cool. This was the first time God in my mind was cool. I didn’t see the darkness around his kingdom in a demonic way. I felt that darkness represented the layers to who God is, the knowledge beyond your understanding of him. Fearing God means a reverence, a love and respect for God. When you have that, you’re at peace with the darkness around his throne and your inability to understand him. Thinking about the fear of God gave me the gas in my engine to put out my perspective on clothing. I would just feel so empty putting out clothes with no message. I would hate to think that people really think that cool clothes mean so much. Trends change. These things are fleeting. So I wanted to base the clothing on something that wasn’t fleeting in my mind.”
The name “Fear of God” came out of a devotion in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest. Lorenzo explained in an interview with The Face in 2019 “it’s a heavy undertaking, designing clothes. There are highs and lows, so I needed a message that I really believed in to keep me going. At the end of the day, it can get kind of corny, being so worried about your appearance and what you’re wearing and designing and trying to be conceptual. I’m not really so into it like that, so I needed a bigger picture. I needed a foundation and a story to tell to drive this thing.”
“Fear of God isn’t a clothing brand, it’s a conviction,” he explained to Ssense. “It’s just a platform to touch people. It could be said through anything.”
LIVING OUT A LEGACY OF FAITH
Lorenzo was born in Sacramento, California in 1977 to Jerry Manuel, a former baseball player turned manager and coach for teams like the White Sox and the New York Mets. He travelled from city to city with his parents, wherever his father’s work brought them.
“We were always kind of moving around,” he told Ssense. “What we had in our house was religion, and each other. I went to an all-white high school where I was only exposed to rock, grunge, and metal, those types of vibes. On the weekends, I went to an all-black Southern church. All my friends were black and listened to gospel and hip-hop. I mean, I’m black, but I have a lot of things in me. I grew up with a juxtaposition of all these different things.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree at Florida A&M University, he went on to do his MBA at Loyola Marymount. It was during this time that he had his first taste of retail, working part time in the sales department of streetwear brand Diesel. Thinking he would follow in his father’s footsteps, he worked for the LA Dodgers after graduating.
He moved back to California in 2008 and became a successful party organiser, putting together events called JL Nights that attracted celebrities and designers such as the late Virgil Abloh (Off-White) and rapper Kid Cudi. At the same time he began managing baseball player Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, focusing on his media image and styling. Lorenzo found himself looking for clothes for his client that didn’t exist, and so he decided he would design them himself. One such item was a hoodie with short sleeves, which would later become a signature item in his Fear Of God collections. He began to dream of designing, and in 2012 he set up Fear Of God with $14,000.
The early days were hellish. With no design background and zero connections, Lorenzo was taking all his earnings from JL Nights and pumping them into his dream. He was cheated of more than $30,000 from suppliers who could tell that he was unfamiliar with the industry. It was sheer faith that carried him through. His story sounds like something out of Joseph’s or Jacob’s lives.
He told Complex in a 2017 interview: “As much money as I lost, I never lost the conviction that I knew I had something to say or offer. There were plenty of times I should’ve let go and given up, like, ‘Hey, my wife just gave birth. I have a son at home. I’m trying to get out of nightlife, but maybe this isn’t the right way. But I just knew what I was going to do in the end was way bigger than what [people] were taking from me.” His wife Desiree had just given birth to their twin daughters at the time, and they already had a son, Jerry Lorenzo Manuel III to provide for.
His first collection of 12 pieces included the short sleeved hoodie with side zips, and the then-trendy long T-shirt, which he redesigned to suit his personal taste. His break came when the stylist for rapper Big Sean, who was a friend of Desiree’s, saw his long T-shirts in their garage and took some for the rapper. Big Sean liked them and asked for more, so Lorenzo sent him the short sleeved hoodie.
Kanye West, whom Lorenzo had admired for a long time, called him upon receiving a long T-shirt from him. “He was like, ‘Yo! I just got this long tee from you. Can you come to Atlantic City and show me your collection?’ When I got to Atlantic City, he looked at the T-shirt and was like, ‘Man, I could see all the thought that went into this simple long tee.’ I believed in myself after that first meeting. And I’m forever grateful to him for that,” he told Complex. West asked Lorenzo to collaborate with him on his APC Collection and also Donda.
Lorenzo also credits West for being an important piece of Fear of God’s existence. “The best thing Kanye did for me was make ‘Jesus Walks’. Fear of God wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a ‘Jesus Walks’. I was working at Diesel in Chicago at the time, and hearing this dude rap about Jesus, the way that he did, his delivery… ‘Jesus Walks’ changed my life.”
Fear of God became popular at a time when Christianity had a moment in pop culture. West had released his much-talked about album Jesus Is King and was touring the nation holding “Sunday Service” at stadiums. Justin Bieber was a famous member of Hillsong Church back then—Lorenzo designed his outfits for his 2016 Purpose tour. But the popularity of Christianity is not something Lorenzo is concerned about.
He told The Face, “It’s so much bigger than that. If you really believe in it then it is everything to you, so these pop culture moments are going to come and go but what I’ve found in my life personally is that it is eternal and it is outside of time and space. It’s the most important thing in the world to me.”
IN THE WORLD BUT NOT OF IT
Fear of God may rank 23 in Hybebeast’s list of 50 top brands, and Jerry Lorenzo may have been named Footwear News 2021 Designer of the Year (the “shoe Oscars”) but the designer does not pay too much attention to the accolades of the world.
In fact, Fear of God functions contrary to many other luxury brands. Lorenzo has built a brand out of neutrals and basics spun out of luxurious fabrics and accented with expensive finishes—it’s a departure from the glittery colour explosions of most other brands. Also, he doesn’t believe in seasons in an industry driven by Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter, Cruise, Pre-fall and whatever other seasons they can think of. Along that same vein, Fear of God does not do runway shows. Lorenzo has no investors and he functions with his relatively small team of nearly 70. Despite flouting the “rules”, Fear of God has tripled in sales in the past year.
Instead of following the fashion calendar, he releases collections as and when the collection is ready. He numbers each one—First Collection to Seventh Collection—but his latest is named Eternal and offers what Lorenzo considers truly essential building blocks of a men’s wardrobe, pieces that last forever, many of which are made in Italy: a double breasted jacket, denim pants, sweater, and his signatures like sweatpants made of cashmere.
With two successful lines, Fear of God has come a long way since that first 12-piece collection. There are now apparel for women and kids, and the brand is about to expand into a third line. After collaborating with Vans in 2017, launching Fear of God sneakers with Nike in 2018, and being head of Adidas Basketball from 2020, Lorenzo is about to launch Fear of God Athletics in collaboration with Adidas. Sneak peeks of the highly anticipated line have come out this week, revealing collaborative branding on hoodies and sweatshirts.
The world may call him a genius and heap praise on him, but in an interview he did with Steven Furtick, lead pastor of Elevation Church, Lorenzo states that he does not make decisions without seeking God. He hesitates to even consider himself a designer. He said, “I believe that God always puts us in rooms that we are not qualified for, so that He can show up. And it’s in those rooms that you have to trust Him, and your character can either keep you in that room, or it can get you out of the room.” He has turned down collaborations with top brands if what is asked of him does not honour the gift God has placed in him.
Fear of God is the antithesis of all that fashion stands for, and yet God has elevated it to one of the top brands in the world today. Jerry Lorenzo and Fear of God embody Matthew 5:31-33, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
As Jerry Lorenzo said to Interview, “There’s something about Christianity that is humble and chic, it’s someone who’s the quietest in the room, but their character is the loudest because of the integrity that they walk in. It’s this balance of the two worlds that represent, in my opinion, the best of us.”