Lanny Smith,

How Lanny Smith Went From NBA Player To Athletic Apparel Entrepreneur

Lanny Smith was drafted to the NBA and inked a deal with the Sacramento Kings

In 2009, Lanny Smith was drafted to the NBA and inked a deal with the Sacramento Kings. A mere 33 days after signing his contract, an unforeseen and devastating knee injury shattered his hoop dreams. This abrupt derailment of his basketball career set Smith on an unexpected odyssey of self-discovery and purpose, Forbes reported. It ultimately steered him into the realm of sports apparel, culminating in the birth of his brand, Active Faith, in 2011.

Active Faith is a faith-based sports apparel brand that weaves motivational quotes and scriptures into its designs. Collaborating with former NBA player Anthony Tolliver and Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry, Smith successfully grew Active Faith into a global e-commerce brand, boasting customers from 73 countries. In its inaugural year, the brand earned $100,000 in revenue and later flourished into a $7 million faith-based business.

Despite his success, Smith encountered hurdles in securing investments to expand his brand into retail stores, with investors sometimes backing out due to his ethnicity. However, the positive impact Active Faith had on its customers, receiving numerous heartwarming emails, inspired Smith to pivot. He saw the need for greater representation and decided to launch Actively Black, an apparel line focused on uplifting and representing the Black community, while maintaining ownership of Active Faith.

When the world shut down during the pandemic, Smith observed how many brands made grandiose pledges to support the Black community following the police killing of George Floyd. Yet, Smith perceived these gestures as performative and lacking authenticity. He questioned why these companies, which had profited from Black consumers for years, had remained silent on pressing issues. It was time to build a brand that truly represented the community, he felt.

Actively Black emerged on Black Friday in 2020, symbolizing a commitment to year-round authenticity, rather than aligning with specific periods of African-American recognition, such as Black History Month or Juneteenth. Smith saw an opportunity in the awakening of people who realized that many brands had profited from the culture but hadn’t included it in ownership or offered Black talent the chance to express themselves fully without feeling compelled to diminish their Blackness.

“I like to call it deprogramming and reprogramming the people. Unfortunately, the effects of oppression and racism start to seep into the subconscious. There are Black people who don’t believe they’re as smart, gifted, or equal, and I wanted to tear down those misconceptions about who we are and give that type of confidence and belief in self. The community is galvanizing the tribe, as I like to call them, around this brand,” he told Forbes.

Smith’s dedication to his brand’s mission is clear. He manufactures his apparel and accessories in Asia and Lagos, Nigeria, and aims to expand his manufacturing presence in Africa. In just one week, Actively Black earned $100,000 in revenue, and the inventory he anticipated would last three months sold out in four weeks. By the end of its first year, the brand had achieved $2.3 million in sales and was on the cusp of reaching $6 million, but an analytics company revealed that $8 million in potential revenue was missed, indicating the immense demand.

“That’s something that none of those other brands, no matter how big their budgets are, no matter how big they are, that’s the place that they can’t compete in, and that’s where I see our advantage. The timing of this right now is a perfect storm for us. I believe people are more awakened to the fact that some of these brands have profited off of the culture, but they have not included the culture in ownership. They haven’t included the culture in giving the talent the opportunity to truly express themselves without feeling like they have to diminish their Blackness, and so this is a place where in a brand where that’s not the case. The people feel that, and that’s how we’re building this,” he told Forbes.

Actively Black’s brand awareness grew through significant creative partnerships with entities like Teleport Watches, Marvel, The Bobsled and Skeleton Federation of Nigeria, Slam Magazine, and NIL deals with four HBCU athletes. These collaborations allowed the brand to stay true to its core values while fostering growth.

As Smith continues to expand his business, he remains committed to giving back to the Black community. He has donated $500,000 to organizations like the Liberation Fund, Compton Girls Club, Black Girls Smile, Black Girls and Black Boys Code, Ujima, and Black Mamas Matter Alliance. He envisions Actively Black as more than an athleisure line; it is a movement, a global brand in the making, uniting the diaspora and transforming the lives and beliefs of Black people worldwide.

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