People can spend their money on whatever they choose, but it is worth considering the outcomes for spending big money on small brands with the chance to make seismic impact in key markets.
This is the idea lingering over Tradition Ever Since, an HBCU-graduate owned and operated brand selling apparel with HBCU logos and marks. Discussion about the company caught fire in the HBCU social community yesterday and spurred the latest chapter in the conversation about quality, marketing, and motivations for supporting black-owned businesses.
Some of the dialog revolved around the costs of one of the company’s signature products; school-centric $90 basketball shorts. The supporting argument for buying them is simple — support a black business owner working to create a lifestyle brand tied to historically black college culture.
The counter-argument is also simple — who has $90 for some basketball shorts, historically black or otherwise?
The gray area in between these two points is a lot like the HBCU vs. PWI argument. For each of us, what is the cultural currency earned and multiplied by tying ourselves to HBCUs, or anything blacker than our what our personal economics and environments may tolerate?
Racial loyalty, as expressed through economic support, falls somewhere between going to see ‘Black Panther’ and enrolling at an HBCU. At the Wakanda end, its $15 to be a part of a short-term cultural movement.
At the HBCU end, there is a different conversation with family and friends, and different trajectories of professional and personal gain to shape the argument in favor of or against attendance.
At the core of it all is one common idea- dismantling white supremacy. Some people buy into independence from it, and some buy into infiltrating it as the most effective means of it’s demise.
But we never quite get beyond these arguments, ironically enough, because the design of white supremacy sets the parameters of choice for individual and collective achievement in a system rigged against both. It demands of every black person to decide in nearly every area of our lives “are you about getting yourself ahead, or everyone else?”
If you work hard enough and play by the rules of assimilation access, you can be among the chosen few who get to represent what the system could look like if equity was more than a mirage. You endure a lifetime of racial isolation, antagonism and wearing the mask in places and spaces where it’s made clear that you must be ten times as good to earn the ultimate prize of being simply tolerated.
If you stand up for systems and institutions supporting black folks at large, you ensure for yourself a lifetime of heartache and disappointment in a people who will never assemble for a common cause, because they are too broken to recognize their own value beyond being a glitch in the supremacy matrix.
And if those are the two choices, it is easy to see why watching a movie or Beyoncé’s musical ode to HBCUs is far easier than choosing to earn a degree from one.
Which brings us back to $90 hoop shorts. It’s easy for the pro-individual crowd to decline the sale because of the price point, and the pressure that surrounds HBCU affinity. Unlike transcendent brands like Jordan or iPhone, neither their lives nor social status are enhanced by the sale, so there’s really no penalty for not buying them.
And it’s easy for pro-institition folks to consider the $90 as a purchased share in a company which one day, may grow to represent HBCU ideals in wealth and jobs generated. The company may never get there, but our lives are enhanced by knowing we tried to make it possible through supporting it.
And while that inner culture war is taking place, the owner of Tradition Ever Since has secured licensing to create and sell apparel with trademarked logos and images belonging to several HBCUs. Those licenses aren’t cheap to secure — through the Collegiate Licensing Company costs can run between $6,000 and $21,000 per institution.
He has to price product based upon those costs, production costs, debt servicing, and profit margin that can accommodate a niche audience’s affordability threshold, and the desire to grow.
Tradition is marketing exclusivity, quality and cultural pride to a market segment which specializes in reasons to avoid all three in black contexts. The company is hoping that people will embrace the reality that individuals can be exceptions, but institutions make rules.
With companies like African American College Alliance, Urban Argyle and others, there remain opportunities to make our entrepreneurs successful on our terms and in support of our institutions, to use these products as affirming billboards for HBCUs and what they represent to the entirety of Black America.
We don’t have to buy $90 HBCU basketball shorts — just like we didn’t have to see ‘Black Panther,’ or march against black bodies being shot in streets, or elect Barack Obama, or go to the Million Man March.
But sometimes you break rules just to show others that we are aware they exist, and that we wield more power to change them than meets the eye.