In the world of street fashion, it’s better to toe the line than to create waves. Having worked for numerous entrepreneurs, producing their stories, and calibrating their narratives in scripts, I know of the idea of creating a brand. It’s the idea that you are no longer the identity you held before if you want to be profitable; you as the bankroll of your own success’ sole responsibility is to become the centerpiece of a gaze that is as household and universal as Nike: it’s for your consumers. But what happens when your consumers expect better of you? We get Black entrepreneurship’s leading giants.
The Akron-native John Dean is the owner of Renowned, a men’s fashion apparel company sourced currently in Los Angeles with a sophisticated spin on sports leisure aligned-style that turns face front into early 2000s Hip-Hop swagger: all things Black culture.
“My core is Hip Hop and sports. One of the first memories I had was singing “Whoomp (There It Is) around the house. Hip Hop culture will forever be apart of what I do in all areas of life… My first collection, “Trapped” questioned if this place we call paradise is really home. Our season 3 pays homage to the “Moulin Rouge,” which was the first desegregated hotel in Las Vegas. Back in the day, all the greatest Black entertainers would come into town to perform but couldn’t stay at the hotels they performed at. Instead, they all gathered at the Moulin Rouge, which ended up being the most lavish and extravagant parties in town. Everyone all of a sudden wanted to come to the Moulin Rouge to hangout…”
At only 27, Dean has been featured in the likes of GQ, Buzzfeed, WWD, Forbes, and more carrying the song of “the Duality of the American Dream” as a highlight of its individuality. He didn’t have much training in fashion, but as Hip-Hop or good jazz will teach anyone, a spontaneous combination makes for a unique ascension.
“Growing up in the Cleveland/Akron Area was quite different for fashion. A lot of people around me were interested in being athletes or entertainers. It [fashion] was an unfamiliar choice for a kid like me to want to pursue fashion. Honestly, there weren’t many opportunities in fashion in Akron. Ohio. We didn’t understand trends, and if we did, it was 2/3 years after it had already hit places like New York,” John Dean says. “Growing up with the early days of the internet allowed me to be involved with fashion from before a lot of my peers.”
Despite Ohio housing the third-ranked capital for fashion in the country, Columbus, Ohio, there has always been a pause between entertainment and the culture prevalent and necessary to create a successful and long-lasting industry. This is further troubled by the fact Black culture in Ohio has been ignored in favor of framing a demographic of whiteness in the midwest, leading to minimal celebrity interaction and low-options for commerce necessary to launch brands.
As an Ohio native, the pause is palpable to every Black creator attempting to conjure infrastructure and success while more than anywhere between 500 to 2500 miles away from larger zeitgeists of entertainment. Of course, local personalities resist this and create underground cultures like the Orange Soda Party, but we’re still paused. In my experiences, it’s unheard of for Black children to ascend the economic situations of even their grandparents without fulfilling the stereotypical image of Black success in music, sports, or, in some cases, the hard law of the streets.
I think the gateway to longevity is AUTHENTICITY.
However, when Dean launched Renowned, he thought he would be dressing the legends of the early 2000s like Kanye West. “Our price point allows us to coexist in a streetwear and luxury world. We are carried in stores that stock Gucci and also stores that sell mostly streetwear. We are finding a cool niche in the menswear market that has a lot of potential. I think the gateway to longevity is AUTHENTICITY. If you are telling stories that matter to you and being true to yourself, I think you have the best chance at success. Even more, you have the best chance of being happy and satisfied with your work, no matter the outcome.”
When discussing African-Americans and Black-owned businesses, it’s hard not to acknowledge the discussions on platform and responsibility that have sprung up in light of recent civil unrest. And unfortunately, it’s not a recent shift. Over the last ten years, there has been a lot of pressure for Black-owned businesses to thrive and perform in street fashion today.
“I define the American dream in one simple word: OPPORTUNITY. As African-Americans, we have historically been denied many things, but I believe one of the most important denials is access and opportunity. We lack the resources and information the other races were able to obtain. Now we are playing a game of catch up. I believe that Renowned embodies the spirit of the NEW American Dream. One that allows us to profit from our creations and culture.”
In a time absorbed with social justice, consumers look to the community-minded practices of Black-owned businesses during the Civil Rights Movement. Just two months ago, celebrities and business owners alike were challenged to “open their purse” and give back to the numerous Black Lives initiatives across the country. We as a culture have spring-boarded from Michael Jordan rejecting the notion of charity or “free hands outs” as a means for wealth consolidation to publicly decrying capitalist agendas that do not reallocate wealth back into the community, which supports the business and houses the culture it exemplifies.
Creators have not been particularly exempt from the expectations of solidarity, particularly during the earliest of the #TonyMcdade #BreonnaTaylor and #GeorgeFloyd protests. “They [the protests] were very meaningful to me. I’ve never had the opportunity to protest in this sort of way before. Being in the streets with like-minded people made me feel like my life did matter… This whole movement helped me better the narrative voice of Renowned.”
As Black creators, the status quo defines the trajectory of our attitudes and performances. Many of the fashions co-opted in pop culture today were incepted as a response to the extreme poverty dominating the late ’70s through the early ’90s for Black culture.
Renowned is a vehicle for discussing all sorts of dreams, but especially those realized against difficult odds.
While the styles and trendsetting were apparent, the endgame always encapsulated solely staying above water in an American rat race designed on marginalizing Black people living, period. And as Black fashion survived the shift, it still operates in constant reaction to the trauma of Black culture.
For Dean, Renowned is a vehicle for discussing all sorts of dreams, but especially those realized against difficult odds. Dean himself acknowledges the difficulty of his position. “I’m navigating a space [fashion] that hasn’t been so accepting of people who look like me. It has been a mission of mine to tell those stories of life as a Black male in the USA through each collection we make. In a particular instance, we were able to create a Benefit tee that donated all the proceeds to charities that support Black lives.”
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WOW…WE SMASHED OUR GOAL…We set out a goal to be able to raise around $10,000 to be donated….We literally hit that goal in less than 24 hours with MORE TO GO! I’m so proud of what we can do when we come together…We are keeping the shirts up for another few days to be able to maximize our contribution(Link In Bio ) Remember …DEFUND THE POLICE and FUND EDUCATION!! Black Lives Are WORTHY! & if you don’t think so ..FUCK YOU!!! #blacklivesmatter #supportblackbusiness #blackownedbusiness
The Benefit tee is an all-black t-shirt complete with images of the Black Panther Party’s buttons and images of revolutionary Black women and a single line of text: “WE NOT ASKING No MORE.” It was inspired by vintage Civil Rights leaders of the past and as a reminder that the battle is not over. And the reminder was powerful with Renowned selling over 600 tees in just under 12 days. On the hangtag for the BLM t-shirt, is a call to action in four crucial goals for fighting system issues:
- Organize within your communities to address issues affecting Black lives.
- Show up to protest, donate, show solidarity & E-mail your local representatives.
- Lean and listen from Black people, we are telling you what has been happening for years & what we think can be done to fix these issues.
- Most importantly, take action and don’t give up, this is a lifelong battle for equality.
In creating these Benefit tees, Dean wanted to be thorough about the ways his consumers could help use Renowned as the vehicle of amplification. “I can understand how someone can become lost on “How to Help.” I wanted to make it clear that these are things that we all could do regardless of race to help support Black and brown people.”
Since beginning his initiative in incorporating social justice into his brand, Dean has noticed many changes to the landscape of fashion for the better. While the fight has far from stopped as both Breonna Taylor’s murderers have not been arrested and George Floyd’s trial is still revealing new and equally heinous misconduct, there is still time to hope for the future of Black-owned street apparel.
“I believe menswear will be more conceptual and thought-out. I think we will break away from the typical ‘man uniform’ like jeans, T-shirts, hoodies, and sneakers, and transform into a much more individualized format. I’m really liking cropped styles and fringe on men these days. I think fringe is my favorite style to play with. I love the idea of men wearing more draping and body forming pieces as well. I’m playing with a few ideas now with Renowned that will help the transition to more silhouettes like these.”
He goes on to explain that the future of fashion will be evolved through expression.
“I’m going to be the forefront of helping push forward menswear with respect to individuality and identity. When I was growing up, menswear was so simple. Yeah, you could dress it up a little and add a splash of color, but the silhouettes were usually the same. I’d even say the ’60s and ’70s were much more expressive when it came to menswear. I want to bring back that energy with Renowned. I want men to be okay to express themselves; however they see fit. Experimenting with fabrics typically associated with womenswear is our first step in pushing forward culture.