As the NBA offseason progressed and the rumor mill churned, Muggsy Bogues settled into his Charlotte basement home theater. The Hornets’ all-time leader in assists, minutes and steals, Bogues has remained in North Carolina, serving as an ambassador for the franchise and the NBA at large. In the evenings, he channel surfs, flicking through scheduled programming like he weaved through myriad defenses. Shark Tank grabbed Bogues’s attention on this particular night.
Bogues has long enjoyed the entrepreneurial show. He revels seeing creative thinkers being granted lucrative opportunities. Bogues also harbors a soft spot for resident shark and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. A three-team trade shipped the point guard to Dallas in August 2001, just as Bogues’ mother began losing her lengthy battle with cancer. Three years still lingered on his contract, but Bogues preferred to walk from the game and care for Mom. Cuban promptly waived him, only he and the Mavericks honored the remaining seasons and $3.6 million of his deal. “That’s something that always stood out for me,” Bogues says. “The first and 15th, the payments continued to come as they used to.”
Back in Charlotte, a previously-recorded Cuban roared to life on Bogues’ massive television. Two burgeoning Detroit-based entrepreneurs stood in the showroom. Steven Mazur and Eric Huang joined forces to create Ash & Erie, a clothing brand exclusively serving men under 5’8”. “I was kind of mindblown from it,” says Bogues. “Is this real?” At 5’3”, the Hornets legend prevails as the shortest player in NBA history. Bogues nodded along as sharks Robert Herjavec and Daymond John, shorter men who fit the company’s target demographic, rose from their leather chairs to size up the products. After offers pinged back and forth, Cuban ultimately emerged with a 25% ownership stake for a $150,000 investment.
Uniquely tailored clothes in the NBA world typically trend towards interminable 7-footers. Finding shoes larger than size 14 can be incredibly arduous. Most 34-inch waists aren’t stitched with 40-inch pants. Big men can usually cop two custom suits at Men’s Wearhouse for around $1,400. When teams travel to China for preseason tours, larger assistant coaches devoid of lucrative player salaries commonly purchase an entire wardrobe of cheap, quality dress clothes—custom suits can go for roughly $200, according to several coaches—stuffing the hoard into an equally-affordable knockoff duffel bag.
Bogues always faced an equal challenge. His brawny thighs, ripped from nearly two NBA decades of defensive slides, required a 32-inch waist, a measurement that classically comes accompanied by 30-36-inch inseams, rather than Bogues’ necessary 26”. Overnight, Ash and Erie appeared on his big screen advertising the answer to his fashionable problems. “I’ve been talking about a brand like this for some time,” Bogues says. “I saw the Big and Tall stores all the time. I always wondered why we didn’t have a Short and Small. Everybody was excluding us.” He dialed his agent David Falk the next morning, who phoned Cuban. Soon after, Mazur and Huang flew down to Charlotte for a photoshoot with the company’s first official celebrity endorser.
One third of American men stand at 5’8” or shorter, Mazur says, yet a marginal portion of name brands produce clothing that fits the demographic. “I thought there was a strong opportunity to tap an underserved market,” Cuban told The Crossover via email. In May, the startup eclipsed $1 million in overall sales, selling more than 11,000 shirts and 1,100 jeans—good for a 300 percent growth, since it launched in 2015. “We’re not stopping until every shorter guy in the country has tried on our clothes and knows who we are,” Mazur says. Ash and Erie's shirts are cut shorter in the sleeves and the body, the collars a bit more proportional. The brand's offers pants with inseams from 25-29 inches. “Which is just unheard of at mainstream brands,” Mazuer says.
“Ash” comes from the Detroit city motto, “It will rise from the ashes,” and “Erie” is representative of the great lake that flows north into the Detroit River. Bogues never played for the local Pistons, yet he consistently cooked taller, darker and handsomer opponents with a smile. “We want to help spread that message too,” Mazur says. “It doesn’t matter what height you’re born with, you’re perfect the way you are.” If you are similarly vertically challenged, clothes shopping may be soon be a head-scratcher of the past. “Now we have arrived,” Bogues says.