Alumnus revolutionizes fashion one shirt at a time

Daniel Silberman, founder of Once Upon a Time, shows off his own clothing line. Courtesy of Daniel Silberman
Daniel Silberman, founder of Once Upon a Time, shows off his own clothing line. Courtesy of Daniel Silberman

Growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, and Tel Aviv, Israel, was not easy for a American youth who wanted to watch the legendary music video show Yo! MTV Raps. American hip-hop culture was hard to come by in any form for University of Miami alumnus Daniel Silberman during his childhood. Years later, Silberman’s own street-wear clothing line, Once Upon a Time In New York, is now popping up in store windows on the same streets he once frequented.

“I still get excited every time someone compliments my t-shirt or I see someone wearing Once Upon a Time,” Silberman said. “Going to work never feels like a job to me, I love everything about it.”

After seeing a Stussy brand t-shirt at age 13, Silberman said he fell in love with hip-hop culture. Now, celebrities like Jay-Z, Paris Hilton and The Game all wear Silberman’s creations. The 27 year old, who graduated from UM as a marketing major in 2004, began the clothing label in 2005.

“I think what helped about UM is that its such an international school and you get influenced by so many different cultures,” Silberman said. “It was a great experience.”

“We Run,” one of the Once Upon a Time lines, has become the most popular of the company’s offerings. Silberman’s “We Run NY” t-shirt is a play on the “I Love NY” and features an image of three people running instead of a heart.

“I think every city needed a strong t-shirt.  I was listening to a song by rapper KRS-One when I got the inspiration, and the shirt just felt right,” Silberman said.

While he lists New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles as cities where his brand first broke through, Silberman explained that it took a little bit longer to gain a solid ground in Miami. Once Upon a Time is now sold locally at different boutiques like Shoe Gallery in Brickell.

“Miami has such a smaller street-wear market than a lot of the other cities like New York, so we’ll never do numbers in Miami like we do other places,” Silberman said.

Since its inception, Once Upon a Time has expanded to roughly 10 full-time employees, including Alina Silberman, Daniel’s sister.  Alina, who Silberman described as an “amazing artist,” has her own design consulting firm and helps with the brand’s designing process.

Despite its early successes, Once Upon a Time still endures growing pains.

“The hardest part is when stores are doing bad with other merchandise, and even though they sell yours successfully, they try to avoid paying you to cover up their mistakes,” Silberman said.  “And seeing bootlegs is also bad, but they say imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

For fashion-minded students like UM sophomore Sean Spellman, Silberman’s company provides inspiration.

“You see how successful his brand has been, and you think to yourself, ‘why can’t I do something like this?’  It’s awesome to see someone who was in our shoes a few years ago reach that success,” the 19 year old said.

To students like Spellman, and all aspiring fashion minds, Silberman has one piece of advice: don’t be afraid to fail.

“Taking the chance to fail is the toughest decision to make, but don’t let people tell you it can’t be done.”