For Dean “Shababa” Townsend, what began many years ago as a hobby of putting witty messages on T-shirts has blossomed into a retail clothing business with five employees and $275,000 in revenues.
Townsend’s signature line, Conscious Wear, includes caps, jackets, golf shirts, socks and sweat shirts. It is designed around African American culture, with each item bearing the Conscious Wear logo–an embroidered patch in the shape of Africa. The items are also inscribed with information about black historical figures as well as inspirational phrases and messages geared toward at-risk youth. The “R-U-LIS’N” series uses traffic signs to promote an anti-drug and anti-violent society. Messages like “Violence Can Lead to a Dead End” and “Be Smart, Do Not Enter Gangs or Drugs” are imprinted on T-shirts.
Townsend operated the business part time in 1989 while working as a legal administrator for a Chicago law firm, but left to pursue his business full time three years later. With $7,500 in start-up capital, he purchased printing and computer equipment to increase production of his T-shirts. After a year and a half, he invested $20,000 in personal savings and $20,000 in loans from relatives to expand his product line to include other apparel. But like many start-ups, he experienced cash flow problems. With no advertising budget, he depended on word-of-mouth and art trade shows, expos and professional conferences to promote his products. He also had difficulty getting retail stores to carry his items until a friend from Sears helped break the ice.
“It hasn’t been easy,” says Townsend, who’s looking to increase revenues this year by 25%. “But I’ve never considered quitting because I knew there was a market out there for my product.”
Conscious Wear attracts many in the hip-hop generation, but Townsend says he’s looking to expand his audience. “I’m also aiming at the corporate 25-45-year-olds for dress-down Fridays with a selection of casual wear,” he says. This line will begin with casual slacks Townsend plans to release next year.
Conscious Wear is available in Nubian Expressions in Vallejo, California, and African American Images and Sears stores in Chicago. Items from the clothing line are also available through mail order by calling 800-894-1739.
Conscious Wear, 24339 S. Shady Oaks Trail, Crete, IL 60417; 708-672- 3883