When Clatee McAfee began her career in the fashion industry over 20 years ago, she envisioned stars wearing her designs to the Grammy awards. Today, McAfee is more concerned with the stars that shine in classrooms than on concert stages. She is the founder of Uniformity L.L.C., which manufactures school uniforms consisting of wrap culottes, walking shorts, French-cuff blouses, cropped denim vests, reversible bomber jackets, zip-front blazers, jumpers and overalls.
Uniformity’s designs are now worn by more than 18,000 middle and high school students in New York, New Jersey, Texas, California and Washington, D.C. The two-year-old firm, which is housed in an 18,000-sq.-ft. facility in South Central Los Angeles, generated $300,000 in revenues in 1997.
McAfee conducted informal surveys with the students in the Leadership Education and Development program at UCLA’s business school, who came from culturally diverse backgrounds. “They liked the idea of mandatory uniforms that still give them a sense of freedom of choice,” says McAfee. She and her staff of 15 employees market the clothing using a catchy company jingle, “Individuality without compromise,” and in-school fashion shows featuring student models. They also train student sales teams.
McAfee, now 44, started her first company, Clatee Manufacturing, in 1994. Two years later, she partnered with designer Ruby Eddie to open Uniformity. McAfee, who had designed costumes for superstar Stevie Wonder and uniforms for the Southern California Gas Co., wrote to Macy’s West about her new line of school uniforms. A year later, the first Uniformity boutique debuted at the Macy’s Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza Store in L.A. Today, customers can buy separates, priced from $36 to $110, or the entire 13-piece collection for about $350. McAfee plans to expand to another 10 locations nationwide over the next two years. Another long-term goal is a collection of fashion accessories.
African Americans spent about $48 billion on clothes and shoes in 1994, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To that end, McAfee formed Stitches Technology, a job creation center that teaches the basics of production, designing and merchandising. “It’s important to get more African Americans in this industry,” says McAfee, a graduate of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. “I want to give young people a consciousness about our purchasing power.”
Uniformity L.L.C., 5609 McKinley Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90021; 213-846-5980