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His teachers said he’d end up in jail. Now he’s on the Young Rich List

Geedup founder Jake Paco conquered his demons and took his cult streetwear brand from western Sydney to New York. From the upcoming Young Rich List issue out on October 27.

Carrie LaFrenzSenior reporter

Jake Paco climbs on top of his black Rolls-Royce Wraith, parked in the middle of his warehouse office in Sydney’s Alexandria, and sits on the roof, resting his white Dior trainers on the windshield. His arms and legs are covered in tattoos, a gold Rolex hangs loosely from his wrist and around his neck is a 14-carat gold chain with a “G” stacked full of diamonds.

The G is for his streetwear label Geedup Co, which launched in 2010 and has grown into a cult brand, catapulting Paco onto the Young Rich List this year with a $60 million fortune. The personalised number plate on his Rolls doubles as a business strategy; PFK stands for Play For Keeps. “If you are not all in, don’t even start. That’s what it means,” he says.

Playing for keeps: Jake Paco at his headquarters in Alexandria, Sydney, in September. Louie Douvis

The 34-year-old is clearly comfortable with the trappings of wealth (he also owns a Range Rover Autobiography, Rolls-Royce Cullinan and two Lamborghinis). He’s come a long way from where he grew up in western Sydney’s Glenmore Park. “By the time I was 21, I had lost several friends to overdoses, death or jail,” he says.

Determined not to go the same way, he used his graphic design skills to establish Geedup, which made a name for itself as a streetwear label that was heavily influenced by ’90s hip-hop culture, ’80s graffiti and the loyalty bonds of crime families in the ’70s.

The company has quite a loyal customer base with just over 250,000 followers on Instagram and TikTok, to whom it markets the details of its limited clothing “drops”, which happen every three or four weeks. It’s not trying to be everything to everyone. Paco knows his tribe and he sticks to it. In its first May winter drop, Geedup sold a record $3.2  million worth of stock in just one night.

This managed scarcity is all part of the strategy. Paco could go for top-line sales growth, but doesn’t want the brand to become oversaturated. He says the more people that miss out, the better. This year, Geedup expects sales to jump by 50 per cent on last year’s $20 million and net profit to rise from just over $6 million to about $10 million. He is planning to hire another 38 people over the next year.

Paco has ambitions beyond Australia. When he speaks with The Australian Financial Review Magazine, he has just returned from a trip to New York Fashion Week, where Geedup had a pop-up store in Soho featuring artists Fat Joe and Fivio Foreign. The brand collected 20,000 new phone numbers to add to its fan base. The trip to New York was so successful that Paco is moving there for up to six months, and is aiming to open a flagship store by 2025, along with Sydney, London and possibly Los Angeles where Geedup already has its US office.

Geedup “drops” often sell out in 15 minutes. 

“Twelve months ago, [New York] was not even part of the conversation,” Paco says. “It was surreal, hanging out with Fat Joe. I was listening to these guys when I was 16. We created such a buzz. Now it’s time to put our best foot forward. The power is in the follow-up.”


With the photo shoot now over and the Roll-Royce back in its parking spot, Paco is leaning back in a black leather Eames armchair, sipping a cappuccino. There are just five people in the office, which is dominated by a black-felt pool table, a meeting room with floor-to-ceiling glass and a massive Geedup neon sign hanging on the back wall. On the concrete floor, there is a mark from a tyre burnout made by Paco’s Harley-Davidson. Racks of clothes line the edge of the room.

Paco is explaining how he came very close to losing it all after hitting rock bottom six years ago. He owed money to Chinese suppliers and was struggling to maintain relationships because of his partying and aggressive behaviour. His partner had given birth to their daughter, but they had split and life was spinning out of control.

“I was violent. I was aggressive. I wouldn’t say I was addicted to drugs, but I was definitely abusing them … mainly cocaine and Xanax,” he says. “The guys really copped it from me if I came into the office on Monday and something was out of order. I was very unhealthy.

Jake Paco with brother Beau. 

“I think my demons from my much younger age – I’m talking childhood trauma – I just wasn’t dealing with it. I laid my hand into the walls of that office every other day, so it was nearly always being repaired or damaged. And it all kind of just caught up.” Breaking point came when his former partner took sole custody of their daughter, Harper, in early 2018. “But that’s what brought me back to the brand because you know, I wanted to be something that Harper was proud of.”

Jake Saywell grew up in Warragamba and later moved to Glenmore Park, Penrith. A footy coach gave him the nickname of Paco because he looked like Benjamin Bratt’s character in the film Blood In Blood Out – and it stuck. Paco says his mother Debbie’s work ethic has been a driving force in his career. To support her three children (Paco has an older sister and a younger brother), she worked as a photographer and later as a fitness instructor. She even delivered Yellow Pages phone books at night leading up to Christmas to make extra money.

When Paco was in year 6, his mother left his father, who was abusive, and shortly afterwards started a relationship with a woman (they are still together today). There were six kids living in a three-bedroom home. Paco says this was the first time he saw his mother happy, but it wasn’t easy socially, and he soon found himself getting into trouble at school.

As a teen he was always sketching, and became interested in graffiti. “I didn’t put the Texta or pencil down. I had graffiti all over my textbooks, graffiti all over everything and that soon led to sneaking out at nighttime and painting the town red.” He was also spending time in the boxing gym where he was seeking out what he describes as “masculine energy”. He had no relationship with his father and grew more angry with the world. “The biggest question was, why didn’t he love me, my father? Why was my father capable of that type of aggression and neglect?”

In the first iteration of Geedup in 2010, Paco worked with his brother, Beau, reselling basketball jerseys and snapback hats, which unknown to them were fakes being made in China. Adidas and Mitchell & Ness hit them with cease-and-desist orders. Despite being in business only six months, they had cultivated a small cult following. He and Beau turned their heads to making their own products.


At the time, Paco was working at a North Sydney media company as a graphic designer creating animations for LED screens in elevators. He superimposed a photo of rapper Eazy-E (of N.W.A fame) to a crewneck jumper, and put it up on Facebook hoping to sell 10 for $90 each.“I went and had my lunch break, came back, and we’d sold about 16 of them. I said right, OK, I think we might be onto something.” Lacking knowledge about screen printing, he found a printer to make the jumpers and sent them to customers. Within days, the print was coming off, so Paco remade them. It wasn’t long before customers who missed out were asking, what’s next?

Paco says his love of graphic design and making money from his work kept him from entering the “criminal space”. A rattling moment came in 2013 when he saw his best friend walking through a football field with no shirt on and carrying a pink Supre bag after a two-day bender. It was later revealed that his friend sought to sell firearms to an undercover police officer, and was sent to prison for seven years.

Paco started to think about moving out of western Sydney. But in the end, his mother made the decision for him, asking him to leave the family home after he missed curfew too many times. He slept on a couch in his Alexandria showroom for 12 months.

Paco and his mum, Debbie Saywell, in 2016. 

A decision to set up a stand-alone store in Sydney’s Parramatta in 2014 was the start of the business’s troubles. “It probably cost us more than what we ever made. I was always scraping the bottom of the barrel to make ends meet with rent and wages and things like that,” he says. Mall owner Westfield Parramatta shut that shop over a lease breach. By 2016, Paco settled up with Westfield, and turned his focus to his office in Surry Hills, where he started selling from.

Beau left Geedup around 2016 to strike out on his own and create a merchandising business. The following year, Paco decided to take time out from Geedup. He clarifies that despite his aggressive behaviour in that period, he didn’t fall out with his brother and the pair are still close today. Beau is developing a “staples range” with basic logos on tees and hoodies that will be available all year round at Geedup.

Paco at his warehouse in Alexandria, Sydney. “No matter how long you have served in a box, there’s always better choices. And it’s never too late to turn it around.”  Louie Douvis

After what Paco describes as 18 months of hell, the company relaunched in 2019 with just $14,000. This time, he decided to sell the stock online, and the strategy has worked. Geedup’s “drops” are hotly anticipated. The company’s logistics partner confirmed that when the gates open online on a Friday at 6.30pm for a new release, shoppers are clambering to get $170 hoodies and $430 varsity jackets. The company regularly receives 8000 to 11,000 orders in just 15 minutes, the logistics partner said.

All products are made in China, but Paco is mulling over moving some production to Italy and Portugal, where much of the world’s luxury clothing is made. While gross margins on high-quality items such as duck-down jackets, shoes and letterman jackets would be less given the cost of production, Paco figures it would elevate the brand and craftsmanship.

These days, Paco lives in the Sutherland Shire, south of Sydney, and shares custody of his daughter. He spends time at his farm in Orange when he needs to be creative. He still hits the gym most days. Despite posting regularly on social media, he says he’s a private person and is close to only a few people such as TK, his childhood friend who is head of business development at Geedup.


He is also diversifying his wealth, building a few high-end duplexes in the Sunshine Coast area. He and a business partner are also in the early stages of building 45 to 50 affordable housing units in South Brisbane. Asked about his other business interests, Paco says he was heavily involved in trading crypto for several years but today, he is more focused on trading commodities and foreign currencies using artificial intelligence. He has invested in an AI software company with another business partner.

Geedup also recently partnered with not-for-profit organisation Confit Pathways, pledging $250,000 to assist formerly incarcerated youth reintegrate into society. “All my teachers told me I would end up in jail,” Paco says. On the Geedup Instagram feed, some of the latest models for its clothes include the likes of hardman Graham Henry, a self-confessed reformed bank robber, and former LA-based drug lord “Freeway” Ricky Ross, who is now a prison reform activist and author.

Paco says it’s not about glorifying past incarceration, it’s about telling stories, and showing “young men that are incarcerated or young men that are coming to the end of their jail terms, no matter how long you have served in a box, there’s always better choices. And it’s never too late to turn it around.”

The idea of Geedup, Paco says, was to build a brand where youth slipping through the cracks could belong to something positive. “Sure it’s a business and is monetised through the clothing. But they are buying into a sense of belonging, and the camaraderie. I wish I had that growing up,” he says.

Geedup US brand manager Adrian Garcia, global general manager Trevene Patrick Keuneman, Paco and UK brand manager Steve Odufuye outside the SoHo pop-up. 

He never forgets where he came from. Each tattoo is a stark reminder of the influences and events in his life. He takes off his shirt and shows me some of these reminders – every inch of his torso and back is covered. On his sides are the late American rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls (who dominated 1990s hip-hop with their East Coast/West Coast rivalry), and he points to his armpits, where it shows 1989 – Paco’s birth year.

“Tattoos were therapy for me. I carried a deep pain for a long time. I never wanted to self harm . . . but I needed to taste blood in my mouth. I started to get more tattoos,” he says. “At my lowest point, I got a lot of tattoos. When I lost Harper, I went and I said, ‘what is the most painful place for a tattoo’, and he said the armpits.” He also has tattoos of his nanna and uncle, who have both passed away. On his face, he has a GDUP tattoo, which he says stands for Greatness Demands Undisputed Performances.

“This was just something I did when I felt unworthy. But I have no regrets,” he says. “I wouldn’t change anything because absolutely everything has led me to now.”

He admits he made bad decisions, and “terrorised his mother” in his 20s. Still today, if she does not hear from him for two days she panics. He also reflects on his father further: “It was very easy for me to blame my dad for who I was, but I chose to be who I was and made my own decisions. I was choosing to be violent and do drugs. The distance between me and failure is why I get up every day and do what I do, which in hand catapults me towards success. But it’s not the success I’m really working towards. It’s the fear of failure.”

Paco no longer drinks. He’s been sober for about nine months, although he wound back his hard partying ways several years ago. His eyes are clear. He is energised by his pending move to New York, and the hype NYFW created for the brand. Asked if Geedup can be a $1 billion label and one day sit next to the likes of ingrained streetwear names Supreme or Virgil Abloh’s Off-White (now majority owned by LVMH), Paco doesn’t hesitate: “Most definitely.”

The November issue of AFR Magazine, including the Young Rich List, is out on Friday, October 27 inside The Australian Financial Review. Follow AFR Mag on Twitter and Instagram.

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Carrie LaFrenz
Carrie LaFrenzSenior reporterCarrie LaFrenz is a senior journalist covering retail/consumer goods. She previously covered healthcare/biotech. Carrie has won multiple awards for her journalism including financial journalist of the year from The National Press Club. Connect with Carrie on Twitter. Email Carrie at

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