Credit: Bill McCay/WireImage

Is Roc Nation building a fashion empire? Founder Jay-Z owns Rocawear, Rihanna has designed two collections for River Island and has a fashion competition TV series premiering this fall, Rita Ora has been named the new face of Madonna’s Material Girl collection, and rapper Wale recently launched his own line of accessories.

“It’s a part of branding,” explains the grammy-nominated Wale, who debuted the first collection of knit beanies (his signature accessory) and hat accessories for his WrkingTitle label earlier this month. “[Hats are] my trademark, and one of my friends was like, ‘Man, you should do your own line.'”

Wale says his new venture isn’t just a way to make a quick buck, it’s part of a long-term retirement plan. “When money stops coming in through record sales, executives are making more money off artists as brands than the artists [themselves],” Wale says. “Lady Gaga, Madonna, there’s an influence on pop culture. We all have one. [A fashion line] is almost like a regular next step.”

Roc Nation’s role in the fashion line? While Jay-Z serves as a source of advice and inspiration, Wale calls the shots. “Jay gave me the keys and left me to do what I want to. [He taught me] to know the market before you jump out there. When you’re ready, make sure you know what you’re doing,” he says. “They control my money and my day-to-day, but this is all me. I’m hands-on.”

Though Wale says he spent time learning about the hat market, he admits that having some of his famous friends wear his designs will be good for business. “Everybody loves them — J. Cole, Two Chainz, Trina, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj. I made sure I was wearing them in the studio,” says the rapper, whose new album The Gifted drops on June 25. “Usually they ask me about them. I ain’t forcing them on [anybody]!”

As for plans to expand, Wale says he’s happy to start small and grow slowly. “I like accessories because it doesn’t take up too much time,” he explains. “If I do jeans or t-shirts, I want to do it right. Right now, I’m just going to focus on beanies.”

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