From Iowa City to New York Fashion Week, Andre' Wright isn't just building a fashion brand, he's out to change the world.
Have you always been into fashion? At what point did you decide to start your own clothing brand?
Yes, I have always been very fashionable from my early childhood years until now. When I give presentations I show an image of me at nine or 10 years old and I talk about how I have always had a sense of fashion and design.
I decided that I would own my own brand after I started college at The University Of Iowa. I had made a pretty good living with starting a brand that celebrated the tailgating experience (“Tailgatebarn”), and that company really got me passionate about creating and maintaining a brand. So all those skills and design knowledge carried over into my current venture Born Leaders United where we are doing fashion in a different way. We are a lifestyle brand that builds leaders through passion and activism.
How would you describe Born Leaders United?
I would describe Born Leaders United as the brand for the people. It's an opportunity to be who we are born to be, and being born to do something makes you a natural leader. If we all believe in the same things that we were all born to be leaders, that makes us united.
How did you go about building BLU? How long did it take to bring the first collection to life?
I strategically spent the first year just learning about what customers I wanted and what designs I wanted to release first, so I actually built a lot of local buzz from my hometown Waterloo to Iowa City. Once I knew that’s what the streets wanted I dropped my first collection at a fashion show in Waterloo and I have been on a trajectory to make Iowa a fashion hub since. Now I have completed over 25 fashion shows as the producer and designer including New York Fashion Week '17, and am set to produce my own show this September at NYFW '19. So to fully answer that question, I took a year to create my brand DNA before stepping out into the world of fashion.
Has the brand evolved from its earliest incarnation?
Yes, it changed names from BLU Collar to Born Leaders United because I really wanted to clarify what I was trying to say, and I think it's more catchy. With any brand there is growth. I think the style of clothing I started with changed as well; I am more into leisure wear and higher end quality clothing with fewer logos, so from a technical sense I think we have matured and our message has definitely evolved into a voice more for the people.
You're based in Iowa City, which isn't exactly known as a fashion capital. Have there been benefits to being based in a smaller city?
Iowa City is one of the best kept secrets in the country. It's very innovative in the sense that whatever idea you have, you can get a tribe of people to support you. I never really looked at the area as what matters. I think what’s important is what you are doing. The reason why it works for me here is because I can have a louder voice and affect change. Plus, people have to wear clothes wherever they live.
How was your community supported you in your creative endeavors?
The support has been amazing. We have thousands come out to our fashion events. We alway make a statement with each production and it's a good time. I think because of that the community trusts us to put together entertainment and create awesome clothing with a unified message. I have gotten help from community members that it would be harder to get in contact with if I was in a larger metro, so living in a smaller community definitely has its perks.
It seems like I have been embraced and everyone here is rooting for me to be great. I couldn’t ask for more from any community.
Tell us about the "Humanize My Hoodie" collection and campaign.
The senseless killing of people of color has spurred conversations about society’s perception of the hoodie. Simply put: if you are black and you are wearing a hoodie, YOU ARE CONSIDERED A THREAT. We want you to help us de-stigmatize clothing trends associated with people of color. So essentially, it's a movement to force the conversation of race and more specifically: What does it mean when you see black and brown people wear a hoodie? It's a movement more than a hoodie. We provide workshops for allies, an art exhibition and fresh and unique hoodies.
Has activism always been a part of your creative endeavors and goals?
Yes. I have always stood up for things that I believe in including injustices against other cultures, races and gender. More recently I have been more visual by using my art and platform to make sure the message is amplified. So everything I do from here on out with fashion is very deliberate, from fashion shows to designs and messages we are sending out.
What has the response been to "Humanize My Hoodie," both locally and on a larger scale?
Locally the community has owned it and understands that there is a question about race in this country and how it affects everyone living in our community. The work we are doing helps you understand your bias and checks the idea of threat in a hoodie. Nationally we have been gaining a lot of traction. We have hoodies getting noticed by the masses so that is a great thing — just think if millions of people were having this conversation around the world.
That's how we change things. It's by opening up and understanding.
What advice would you give to other young creatives who are hoping to work in the fashion industry? What do you wish you'd known before you started?
I always tell anyone getting in this business is see what resources you have available. Are you a good artist? Are you good at screen printing? Can you do graphic design? Understand your competitive advantage to get in the business. In addition, what's your story and do you think it will resonate with the masses? This is good advice, but the only way to know if anything ever works is to just try it. So try it.