His designs caught the eye of entrepreneur Christian Audigier who raised awareness of the Ed Hardy brand by slapping his designs on anything flat enough to take them. Soon, cool celebrities all over the world were photographed wearing Ed Hardy T-shirts and the company raked in over 700 million dollars in 2009.
That's when Hardy lost control of the brand thanks in part to an association with reality star Jon Gosselin. Normally, a celebrity endorsement is a good thing, but in a recent interview with the NY Post, Hardy says it was the nail in his coffin, causing sales to rapidly decline.
Gosselin gained his fame on the TLC series Jon & Kate Plus 8 – the "8" being a set of 7-year-old twins and a set of 3-year-old sextuplets. At first, audiences couldn't get enough of this unusual family but it wasn't long before viewers were tuning in for the wrong reasons. Living under the constant scrutiny of the cameras wasn't easy and a few years into the show, Jon and Kate split. Kate continued to film, showing the world what life was like for a single mom with 8 kids, while Jon publicly partied.
A 2011 Nielsen poll listed Jon as one of the most hated people in America. And this was the man promoting the Ed Hardy brand.
At one point, TLC even went so far as to blur Jon's Ed Hardy T-shirts so as not to give the brand any more free publicity. That didn't help Hardy, since Gosselin popped up in front of the paparazzi again and again wearing the extremely recognizable, branded shirts.
As Gosselin rose in fame (not popularity), the Ed Hardy business began to tank. It wasn't long before the company was forced to close stores and liquidate their assets.
Though Gosselin's association may not have caused the collapse, it didn't help matters. But the primary problem was the bad deal Hardy made with Audigier.
“Christian worships celebrities so much, he will get next to anyone who is famous for anything," Hardy told the NYPost. "If he could have gotten Charles Manson in a shirt, he would have.”
In Hardy's defense, it's hard to walk away when a billionaire entrepreneur asks to license your designs. Unfortunately, he gave away far too much power over the brand and he's still paying for the cost of that bad decision.
Licensing deals and celebrity endorsements can bring a life-changing amount of money into a small business and it's hard to see the future when there are sparkling dollar signs in front of your eyes.
What Do You Think?
Can one bad association lead to the end of a thriving business? How about one bad decision? Leave us your thoughts in the comment box below.
More From PayScale
Is Personal Branding the New Corporate Culture?
5 Must-Dos for Your Personal Brand on LinkedIn
Mistakes To Avoid When Starting Your Own Business