Actively Black is a sportswear company whose mission expands beyond trendy apparel reflecting popular culture. Instead, the company reinvests financially and in kind to the Black community.
“I took the mindset that it was time for us to stop asking for a seat at the table. And we were going to build our own table, founder Lonny Smith told CNBC’s “Make It.”
Smith, a former NBA player, established Actively Black in 2020, after the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, as a challenge to bigger brands such as Nike and Adidas, which were actively promoting diversity initiatives and pledging to invest in Black communities. Sportswear is a $170 billion industry that benefits greatly from Black-American influence and consumerism. For Smith, this was an opportunity to position his brand as one that actively invested in the Black-American community.
“I saw a lot of the different sports apparel brands come out with their statements and supporting the Black community and what they were going to give back, and it felt very performative. It felt like it was part of their marketing strategy,” Smith told the Houston Chronicle. “I just kind of decided that we were going to stop asking for the seat at that table, and build our own table and be able to utilize that to give back to the Black community in a way that I thought was actually meaningful and impactful.”
Changing The Game
In 2021, just one year after its launch, Actively Black was valued at $30 million. The company has NIL deals with collegiate athletes such Shedeur and Shilo Sanders and Travis Hunter of Colorado State University as well as University of North Carolina basketball player Deja Kelly. In addition, Actively Black launched its first NIL partnership at Smith’s alma mater, the University of Houston, honoring the legacy of Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney, who integrated the sports program in the 1960s.
“As this brand grows, some of these athletes are going to grow up with the brand,” he said. “And then when it’s time for them to sign [endorsement deals at the pro level], we will at least have a seat at the table as an option for them.”
Partnerships, Celebrity Support and Reinvestment
The brand has also attracted celebrities and partnered with larger brands, all while maintaining its commitment to investing in the Black community.
NBA player Steph Curry recently wore one of the brand’s hoodies as a press conference. Former President Barack Obama dons a watch designed by Actively Black. Its design team features Black designers, and has collaborated with Disney on Black Panther-inspired clothing. The brand also made Nigeria’s uniforms for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
An estimated 10 percent of sales is donated to organizations committed to social justice, mental and physical health in Black communities. Since launching, Actively Black has donated more than $500,000 to organizations such as the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, The Liberation Fund, Black Kids Code, Our Own and Families United.
“My thought process is, if we’re donating at this type of percentage, what happens when we are the multibillion-dollar brand and we’re donating that type of money back into our communities?” Smith told CNBC. “We can have a real impact.”