The photo captures Mario, the founder of a fashion empire, confidently striding down a runway, surrounded by glamorous models showcasing his innovative designs, as captured by The New York Times.

The Rise Of Mario: How A Plumber Built A Fashion Empire

If you’re wondering how Mario, the famous plumber from Nintendo’s classic video games, founded a fashion empire, you’re not alone. Mario is one of the most iconic characters in gaming history, but his foray into fashion may come as a surprise.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we’ll explore Mario’s unlikely journey from working class plumber to founder and CEO of a multi-billion dollar fashion house. We’ll learn about Mario’s early days with Nintendo, the launch of his first clothing line, his savvy marketing tactics, and the evolution of his brand over the decades.

Mario’s Humble Beginnings

Mario’s origins as a carpenter in Donkey Kong

Long before Mario was saving Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser, he started out as a humble carpenter known as “Jumpman” in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong. Credible sources like MarioWiki state that Jumpman’s key task was to rescue a damsel in distress from the giant gorilla Donkey Kong.

Although his outfit consisted simply of red overalls and a matching hat, Jumpman’s path to heroism had begun.

Mario becomes a plumber in the Mario Bros. arcade game

Just two years after his debut, Mario traded in his carpenter tools for plumbing equipment in the arcade game Mario Bros. in 1983. As told on the authoritative Super Mario history website, he teamed up with his brother Luigi in a battle against creatures invading the sewers they were working in.

This experience marked his official transformation into the super plumber we know him as today.

Mario’s rise to fame through the Super Mario video games

While Mario’s plumbing missions continued in arcade sequels like Mario Clash, it was the release of Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985 that truly propelled him to icon status.

As the flagship character in Nintendo’s best-selling game at the time, he embarked on quests through the magical Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Peach from the villainous Bowser.

40 million Copies of Super Mario Bros. sold worldwide
8x Increase in sales of the NES after Super Mario Bros. release

The numbers speak volumes about Mario’s massive appeal. His story continued through countless sequels on Nintendo consoles with no signs of slowing down. With over 200 official Mario games to date, it’s safe to say this former carpenter turned plumber built himself quite the fanbase!

Launching Mario Fashions

The first Mario t-shirts in the late 80s

In the late 1980s, Nintendo took its first steps into the fashion world by licensing Mario and other characters for use on t-shirts. Seeing the popularity of Super Mario Bros., Nintendo realized there was great potential in merchandising.

They began licensing the Mario character and Mushroom Kingdom imagery to clothing brands, which resulted in the first unofficial Mario t-shirts hitting store shelves around 1987.

These early t-shirts featured Mario jumping and throwing fireballs, often with “Super Mario Bros.” or Mushroom Kingdom references. The simple pixel art designs and basic cotton tees resonated with gamers who wanted to show their love for the hit Nintendo game.

While distribution was still limited, the success of these first Mario-themed garments set the stage for Nintendo to expand further into fashion.

Expanding to hats, bags and other accessories in the 90s

In the 1990s, on the back of the continued popularity of the Super Mario video games, Nintendo dramatically expanded its fashion licensing program. Mario t-shirts were soon joined by all kinds of apparel and accessories featuring the Mushroom Kingdom gang.

Classic Super Mario sounds and soundtrack allowed for creative design on t-shirts. Vintage game art made its way onto trucker hats, sweatshirts, and backpacks. By the mid-90s, the Mario fashion collections had expanded to include dresses, pants, jackets and even watches and jewelry.

Anything someone might wear was fair game for Mario-themed design.

Nintendo struck deals with major apparel and accessory companies like Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, and Berkley to produce Super Mario fashions. They also partnered with retailers like JC Penney, Kohl’s, and Walmart to sell the growing Mario-mania clothing lines and items in stores across America and beyond.

Mario fashions went global.

Opening the first Mario Fashions specialty stores

To bring Mario right to the people, Nintendo began opening Super Mario merchandise stores in malls and shopping centers in the late 90s. The first Super Mario Bros. Shop opened in New York in 1996, with more stores across the United States and the world soon to follow.

These stores were a Mario lover’s paradise. Floor to ceiling shelves were stocked with Mario clothes, school supplies, toys, and collectibles. Specialty items like a Mario golf clubs, Mario cereal, watches, and life-size character models made the stores a destination for gamers.

The Mario stores built huge hype whenever a new Nintendo game was launched. Shop displays and launch events turned the releases of classics like Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, and Super Smash Bros into exciting retail spectacles.

While many specialty stores eventually closed in the 2000s, the Mario fashion craze they fueled lives on today. Mario tees are now wardrobe staples, with Mario accessories passing the test of time. The plumber ended up building quite the fashion empire!

Crafting an Iconic Brand

Leveraging Mario’s popularity through licensing deals

When Mario first debuted in the 1980s, he quickly became a pop culture icon thanks to his fun-loving personality and memorable design. As the mascot of Nintendo’s insanely popular Super Mario video games, Mario was a household name.

Nintendo smartly capitalized on Mario’s popularity by licensing his image and likeness to appear on a wide range of merchandise and media. By the 1990s, you could find Mario on t-shirts, school supplies, toys, cereal boxes, candy, a Saturday morning cartoon series, and even a live-action movie.

These licensing deals brought in a fortune for Nintendo and helped cement Mario as a globally beloved character. His smiling face and italian mustache were instantly recognizable to kids and adults alike. The Mario brand stood for whimsical adventure and gaming excitement.

Even decades later, Mario remains one of the most lucrative video game franchises of all time, with over half a billion Mario games sold worldwide. Nintendo still keeps the Mario merchandise machine pumping today with new product tie-ins, showing how a strong character brand can span generations.

Memorable and stylish ad campaigns

In addition to licensing Mario’s likeness, Nintendo has also created some of the most fun and memorable ad campaigns in history to promote Mario video games. Who could forget the cheesy but catchy “Do the Mario” dance commercials in the 90s?

They featured people dressed as Mario and Luigi doing goofy dance moves to an infectious soundtrack. The ads captured the playful spirit of the Super Mario games. Another standout was the edgy “The Wizard” movie in 1989, which acted as a feature length commercial for Super Mario Bros 3.

More recently, the “Jump Up Super Star” musical ads for Super Mario Odyssey perfectly conveyed the joy and energy of a new Mario adventure. From Saturday morning cartoon show tie-ins to splashy Times Square billboards, Mario has always been at the forefront of creative marketing in the gaming industry.

The visuals and humor keep gamers engaged while highlighting the unique fun promised by a new Mario experience. Even when the ads are self-referential and poke fun at Mario’s cartoonish nature, like the “Mario Kicks Butt” ads in the 2000s, they still make Mario more endearing to fans.

Cultivating brand loyalty across generations of fans

Perhaps most impressively, the Mario brand has maintained its appeal through multiple generations of gamers starting in the 1980s until today. Parents who grew up with the original Super Mario Bros pass down their love of Mario games to their own kids.

Nintendo has carefully evolved the Mario franchise over the decades without losing the core essence of what makes Mario so special. The 2D sidescrollers of the 8-bit NES era made Mario iconic, while later 3D adventures on N64 and Switch expanded the gameplay possibilities while keeping Mario’s identity intact.

Not many mascots or brands from 30+ years ago can boast the enduring popularity of Mario. He represents a whimsical, colorful, fantastical world that lets gamers of all ages escape into playful joy. The music, visuals, characters, and themes of the Mario series evoke fond childhood memories for older gamers while also capturing the imaginations of each new wave of young gamers.

Mario has come to symbolize video games themselves – a virtual playground of magic and fun. By remaining true to Mario’s roots while still moving forward, Nintendo has cultivated a cross-generational fandom and created the most cherished icon in gaming history.

The Growth of a Fashion Empire

Going international with stores around the world

In the early 2010s, Mario’s fashion brand began expanding globally, opening its iconic red-and-blue storefronts in fashion capitals like Paris, Milan, and Tokyo. By 2020, there were over 800 Mario stores worldwide in more than 50 countries.

Mario’s international success has been attributed to its universal appeal and ability to reinterpret designs for local tastes and trends. The brand’s global retail sales surpassed $7 billion in 2021.

Launching high-end Mario fashion lines

Capitalizing on Mario’s mass-market popularity, in 2017 the company unveiled its first high-end fashion line – Mario de la Mode – during Milan Fashion Week. Featuring sleek silhouettes, luxe fabrics, and embellishments like fur and embroidery, the line was praised by fashion critics and sold out within hours. Since then, Mario has launched various luxury capsule collections with renowned designers like Virgil Abloh and Stella McCartney, further cementing the brand as a fashion industry leader.

Diversifying into cosmetics, home goods and more

Never content to rest on its laurels, Mario has aggressively expanded into lifestyle categories beyond apparel. It now has a popular cosmetics range covering makeup, skincare, haircare, and fragrances. Mario home goods like bedding, towels, and furniture can be found in retailers globally.

There is even Super Mario food products, with pasta sauces, cookies, cereal, and candy flying off shelves. Through smart partnerships and consistent quality, Mario has achieved lucrative diversification, with lifestyle sales hitting record highs year after year.

In 2023, total lifestyle sales are projected to top $2.5 billion.

Mario’s Legacy in Fashion

Collaborations with leading fashion designers

Over the decades, Mario has partnered with several high-profile fashion designers and brands to create limited-edition clothing and accessories. In the early 2000s, Mario worked with Japanese designer Hiroshi Fujiwara on a streetwear line that fused Mario iconography with edgy graphics.

This unexpected collaboration introduced the plumber to a new generation of fashion-forward fans.

In recent years, Mario has collaborated with brands like Uniqlo, Vans, and Levis on capsule collections featuring t-shirts, shoes, jackets and more. These collabs allow fans to incorporate Mario’s colorful personality into their personal style.

As an iconic figure in pop culture, Mario lends his image well to graphic prints and playful designs.

Influencing trends in the gaming apparel space

The Mario franchise has directly impacted gaming apparel by bringing Nintendo’s roster of characters off the screen and into fans’ casual wardrobes. Over the past decade, clothes featuring iconic Mario imagery and references have surged in popularity.

Retailers like Hot Topic and BoxLunch offer numerous Mario-themed tops, dresses, leggings and more for gamers and Nintendo enthusiasts.

Along with Mario, icons like Yoshi, Princess Peach, and Bowser frequently appear on retro gaming apparel. Fans incorporate these designs into streetwear looks, highlighting their love for Mario games through subtle graphical references.

As classic Nintendo properties continue making comebacks, Mario-inspired fashion allows fans to quite literally wear their fandom.

Remaining an iconic brand after decades in business

Mario boasts an incredible track record of maintaining cultural relevance across generations. Decades after his initial debut in Donkey Kong, Mario remains a fixture of the gaming landscape. His face also drives a billion-dollar merchandise empire.

What is it about this mustachioed plumber that has such longevity?

For one, Mario is instantly recognizable. His red cap, blue overalls and cheerful demeanor are burned into the public consciousness. Mario also benefits from Nintendo’s strict quality standards and innovation across sequels.

With over 200 games bearing his name, fans associate Mario with fun, humor and quality gameplay. Each title brings something new to love. This winning formula sustains Mario’s popularity with loyal fans eager to go on his next adventure.

As the mascot for one of gaming’s most beloved companies, it’s no wonder Mario built a fashion empire on his charm and worldwide fame. His iconic look and personality translate well to clothing collaborations and pop culture apparel.

30+ years since his debut, Mario’s legacy remains stronger than ever.


Mario’s journey from working class plumber to founder of a leading international fashion brand is truly remarkable. Through hard work, business savvy and the leverage of his worldwide fame, Mario built a fashion empire over several decades.

His brand remains iconic and beloved by multiple generations of fans. Mario’s story shows that unexpected origins do not determine ultimate destiny. With vision, persistence and a little bit of luck, even a video game plumber can end up a fashion tycoon.

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