Clothing brands by alums of historically Black colleges showcase school pride — Andscape
During homecoming season thousands of alumni from historically Black colleges and universities travel to their alma maters for a weekend filled with reminiscing, partying, networking and sporting their university’s apparel.
“Homecoming is a time where we’re supposed to come together, celebrate and reflect,” Paris Smith, a Morgan State University alumnus and fashion designer, told Andscape.
Many alumni show their school pride by dressing in their school’s colors and branded clothing. Some custom order clothing for homecoming, while others wear vintage HBCU items they keep stored in their closets like collectibles.
Here are some HBCU clothing brands owned and operated by Black college alums that you can wear during homecoming — or all year.
Howard University alumna Amina Hammond created her HBCU Leggings brand during the coronavirus pandemic after organizing a successful T-shirt fundraiser for her alma mater.
After raising thousands of dollars to donate to Howard, Hammond decided to design other Bison apparel.
“When I dropped the first pair of leggings, it was like wildfire. Everybody was wearing leggings because of the time it was – nobody wants to put on jeans even to this day,” Hammond said. “To have these leggings that had this new fresh design and to have, like, the Howard insignia on it, it was just like a crazy combo. … It was just easy to gravitate toward leggings and blankets, because we were all in the house.”
After her first batch of leggings sold out on her website, Hammond decided leggings for women would be the staple of her brand.
“One reason why apparel stands out is because it’s female-focused. And so even the name HBCU Leggings is meant to tell you upfront that ‘hey, we’re putting alumnae in the forefront.’ That was an intentional decision,” Hammond told Andscape. “Some people think I’m crazy, because it narrows a very small landscape to be even smaller, meaning HBCUs are already a small audience, but then to focus on females makes it even smaller.”
Regardless, she was determined to center her brand on women.
“When you go to an HBCU, it’s a fashion show,” Hammond said. “Studies show 70%-80% of people who are attending [and] graduating from HBCUs are females, so it’s kind of crazy that we have to conform to a male standard for apparel.”
HBCU Leggings sells a variety of merchandise, including leggings, T-shirts, hoodies and hooded blankets, for the following HBCUs: Florida A&M University, Hampton University, Howard University, Jackson State University, North Carolina A&T University, Spelman College, Tuskegee University and West Virginia State University.
The dorm T-shirts Hammond creates for each HBCU are among her bestsellers. Producing the dorm shirt for Howard was easy, but Hammond leaned on alums at other historically Black colleges, as well as social media, to help with the design process.
“I know Howard, but I also wanted to always be authentic. I never wanted to come across like I’m faking the funk or not in the know,” Hammond said. “All of us have plenty of people we know who went to these various HBCUs. … So I just go straight to the people, to the alumni.”
HBCU Leggings operates primarily online and hosts pop-up shops for special occasions. Orders from the brand’s website usually take three to four weeks for delivery because merchandise is made-to-order.
“When [alumni] put on my clothes, I want them to feel that sense of school pride and quality. … I want them to look [and] feel like someone put some real effort into crafting a quality product for them,” she said.
“I want [consumers] to just feel like we’re all family, and I’m gonna do right by you, and I’m gonna make sure you’re taken care of.”
HBCU Leggings will set up its first pop-shop on the Yard at Howard University’s homecoming on Friday and Saturday.
Before HBCU merchandise became commercialized, Florida A&M alumna Dainelle Riley and her classmates had a hard time finding FAMU merchandise outside of Tallahassee, Florida, where the university is located.
As a graphic design major in college, Riley designed custom apparel for campus groups, but after she received more than 100 orders for one of her T-shirts, she decided to research licensing and manufacturing. Riley is now the co-owner and creative director of HBCU Culture Shop, with friend Stephanie Walters as co-owner and chief operating officer.
HBCU Culture Shop features the following HBCUs: Alabama A&M University, Bethune-Cookman University, Clark Atlanta University, Florida A&M, Grambling State University, Morehouse College, Southern University, Spelman and Tuskegee.
Riley said she spends hours researching HBCUs, questioning alumni and visiting campuses to create designs that acknowledge each school’s culture.
“The landscape of street fashion and collegiate wear is always constantly changing, so we don’t really kind of go with things that are trending. But we also have to go with things that there’s a need for in the marketplace,” Riley said. “So that kind of often shifts throughout the year, like, sometimes it’s something that you can wear on a more lifestyle kind of basis. Sometimes there’s something that you can wear that’s a little bit nicer.”
HBCU Culture Shop is the first Black-owned HBCU clothing brand to collaborate with Target and is now sold in Target stores nationwide. For now, apparel can be bought online only from HBCU Culture Shop’s website or Target.com. Shipping usually takes five to 10 business days.
“A lot of people are just really proud to be able to have representation,” Riley said. “I’m still kind of in awe of that now. Because even when people come into us, when we’re at pop-up shops, and they’re like, ‘I just love your brand,’ or ‘Thank you for what you’re doing for the culture,’ it’s always so humbling because it’s just so funny. Because [the business] just started in my head and a couple of designs on my computer. Now it’s like something that people resonate with.”
Riley and her team set up pop-up shops at homecomings and travel to HBCU communities to sell merchandise. When Riley launched her business in 2017, pop-up shops and homecoming tours were a huge business booster, but during the pandemic she wasn’t able to travel for business. Now she relishes the opportunity to be back on the road with members of her staff.
“With pop-ups, we’re really able to get our ear to the street. … There are actually times where customers will come up to us [and] they’ll give us a suggestion, ‘Hey, you should have this, or this is a big market you’re missing out on.’ So they are actually able to fill in some holes that we may have,” Riley said. “We’re able to get real feedback, we’re able to let people see our faces and see who we are.”
HBCU Culture Shop plans to set up pop-up shops at the following homecomings: Clark Atlanta (Saturday), Morehouse/Spelman (Oct. 28) and Florida A&M (Oct. 28). Riley hopes to have pop-up shops at the Florida Blue Florida Classic, the Southwestern Athletic Conference football championship game and the Cricket Celebration Bowl.
When Howard University alumnus Tahir Murray founded Legacy History Pride in 2019, he became a third-generation entrepreneur, following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps.
Murray’s grandfather owned Von’s Sneaker Store in New York, the first Black-owned store with a Nike account in the United States. The influence of his father and grandfather helped Murray shape what Legacy History Pride would become.
“I just kind of observed how they moved and how they treated people. They were very intentional with what they were doing and using fashion as a way to build community,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned from my grandfather’s business and my dad’s business as well, the idea of just, like, community and representing things that are greater than us, what makes a brand excellent, what striving for greatness really means.
“I learned from them that building the foundation and having foundational values for your business and for your goals is very important, because that’s what’s gonna hold the house together.”
Legacy History Pride features apparel for more than 35 schools representing the only all-HBCU conferences: the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, SWAC, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“There’s a common thread of heritage and just the three words ‘legacy history pride’ in each of the garments that we make. So each garment kind of follows the same silhouettes but, like, the detailing of the school, school spirit, their mascots, their colorways, the school years, their mottos, we implement that into the design of the products differently for each school,” Murray said.
“But even with our collaborations, we use our collaborations as a way to, you know, highlight and celebrate schools that don’t get a lot of shine.”
Legacy History Pride collaborated with Paramount to create apparel featuring Nickelodeon characters Susie Carmichael from Rugrats and Gerald Johanssen from Hey Arnold! The brand also has collaborated with Nike, WNBA team Atlanta Dream, the Brooklyn Nets and the 1619 Freedom School created by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. Athletes such as NBA player Chris Paul and former NFL quarterback Cam Newton have worn LHP.
Being an online-only brand hasn’t stopped Legacy History Pride from getting merchandise to customers quickly.
“We’re the Amazon of HBCU gear,” Murray said. “When people order, if you order today we’ll ship out either the day of or the next day.”
As Murray continues to grow and expand his business, he also hopes to see HBCUs elevated as well.
“I think HBCUs belong in the same rooms that you see PWIs [predominantly white institutions] and very big colleges. … I believe that HBCUs [and] HBCU fashion belongs in the conversation of higher fashion. That just tailors to the highest standard of excellence that’s rooted in HBCU culture,” he said.
Morgan State alumnus Paris Smith‘s journey into the fashion world began with modeling. He transitioned to bootlegging Morgan State merchandise before becoming a licensed HBCU apparel brand with deals with five universities.
Desires by Saint Paris, founded in 2020, started with Smith’s alma mater as its lone apparel brand before eventually branching out to HBCUs Bowie State University, Hampton and recently added Howard and North Carolina A&T. Smith initially wanted to create an HBCU collection named The Ten featuring 10 schools to pay homage to the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh, who released a Nike collaboration with the same name.
Designing for multiple HBCUs posed a welcome challenge for Smith.
“All schools are not the same. All of my products are approved by each school, so what may be good for one school may not be for another,” Smith said. “So that definitely challenges me as a designer to get them exactly what they want, how they want it, and how they want to be perceived, because at the end of the day we are a reflection of the universities.”
For Smith, the process of designing his signature annual homecoming collection takes almost a year. It includes fabric tests, university design approval, wear tests, wash tests and sample runs before products are displayed on his website.
“The day after homecoming 2022 I started designing my 2023 collection. I think that fresh off of homecoming, that gives me an idea of what people want, what they want to see, what they’re wearing, how to style it and things like that,” Smith said. “I try to design from a point of view where it’s like, this item won’t go out of style.”
Smith’s desire to create HBCU-branded fashion developed after he noticed few alums and students were wearing Morgan State apparel during homecoming. He also noticed that many of the options in the university bookstore did not reflect Black culture.
“HBCUs are underserved. No disrespect to those big brands that make HBCUs, because we support them as well. Even before I started designing, I was wearing stuff at the bookstore. But it came to a point where, like, my friends would come back to homecoming, and nobody would be wearing anything from Morgan on it,” Smith said.
“I want the [design] to be a part of [Black] fashion, like, how we wear it, how we want it, how we can give it back to the world. That’s what kind of made me only stick to HBCUs to this point. The HBCU community has supported me thus far, so I don’t see why I would ever turn my back on them.”
Desires by Saint Paris will have a vendor stand at Howard University’s homecoming on Saturday. Standard shipping for online orders is two to five business days.
Anthony Lawrence Collection is named after the father of Southern alumnus De’fron Fobb. Fobb’s father died when Fobb was in college. He began producing HBCU apparel with Southern in 2014 and Grambling State a year later.
Being in the apparel business for more than a decade has taught him many lessons.
“You have to find your niche, you can’t let the negativity, the naysayers stop you,” Fobb said. “You have to have a drive, a fight [and] be willing to keep going. … You have to find what works for you. You have to find your lane.”
Anthony Lawrence Collection currently sells licensed merchandise for 15 HBCUs including: Alabama State University, Albany State University, Alcorn State University, Clark Atlanta, Florida A&M, Grambling State, Howard, Jackson State, Kentucky State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Morehouse, North Carolina A&T, Southern, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Xavier University of Louisiana.
Fobb is the sole designer for Anthony Lawrence Collection and usually releases his homecoming collection two weeks into the football season. However, he never puts the word “homecoming” or the current year on any of his merchandise to allow customers to wear the products year-round.
“I try to give the customers something different that they wouldn’t see from any other brand. I think if you have ever bought any of my pieces and you ever seen them, it’s really not nothing like that being sold,” Fobb said.
“I want [my customers] to feel like they feel if they walk into a store and bought Louis Vuitton. It may sound arrogant, but that’s how I feel. Why not?” Fobb asked. “Just because it’s an HBCU brand doesn’t mean it can’t be on that level.”
Fobb owns a store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and also sells online. (His shipping estimate is one to three business days.). He also sets up pop-up shops. Fobb attended Southern’s homecoming this year and plans to host a pop-up shop at FAMU’s homecoming on Oct. 28.
“It’s fun because I actually get to see the customers and I get to hear the feedback. A lot of people don’t know that I’m actually selling. They’d be looking for Anthony,” Fobb said with a laugh. “I love to be amongst other people [and] see their faces when they get the merchandise. I love to see repeated customers over and over. I love to hear when they say, ‘This is all I wear.’ ”
Alabama State alumnus Demetrius Mickles and Prairie View A&M University alumnus Percy Bryant III founded The Yard Apparel, an HBCU collection for SWAC schools.
The Yard Apparel sells merchandise for eight schools: Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Jackson State, Prairie View A&M, Southern, Texas Southern University and Florida A&M.
“I visit the campuses all the time, and I go to the different bookstores. I try to see what they have, what they don’t have, and I try to find that void,” Bryant said. “I try to give the university a brand that looks like what the [HBCU] brand should look like, not an outside source that’s a cookie-cutter brand that they’re given.
“Most of the bookstores are owned by white institutions and white entities. Then they give Black brands just a little corner into bookstores, so you don’t get a real brand feel of what The Yard Apparel should look like.”
Bryant and Mickles started ramping up merchandise and releasing new apparel for HBCU homecomings near Labor Day weekend to ensure that students and alumni have ample time to order gear. According to Bryant, shipping usually takes between five to seven days during homecoming season.
The Yard Apparel has two online websites, www.theyardapparel.com and theyardapparelbrand.com, and a mobile store created from a converted 40-foot school bus they drive from one homecoming to another across the country.
“People have preordered so much gear they want to get their gear from the bus,” Bryant said. “They don’t want us to ship it, they want to pick it up on the bus. … They want to get their gear and they want to be fresh off the bus for homecoming.”
Both Mickles and Bryant research HBCUs and compare and contrast the qualities that schools have in common, and use facts such as the year each university was founded to incorporate into designs.
“Even if we’re not working with [Prairie View] on anything, I would still go down to the university and just watch the campus. I would go to the bookstore, I would watch to see what the students are wearing,” Bryant said. “We try to see what’s in the marketplace and still give our touch and our style.”
Bryant knows there are still barriers to work through in creating an HBCU apparel brand.
“Tackling different schools and different conferences makes [designing] even tougher because you have to start off scratch. People don’t realize there is controversy with people from other schools putting out brands for schools that they did not attend,” he said.
The Yard Apparel will be at Prairie View A&M homecoming Nov. 1