In 2012, Lanny Smith founded Houston-based Christian sports apparel brand Active Faith Sports. It quickly took off, earning the No. 150 slot on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America. Since then, he says, he’s wanted to create a similar brand for Black Americans, but it never felt like the right time. Below, Smith describes how his new, Los Angeles-based sports apparel startup, Actively Black, will reinvest in Black communities–and why he’s launching in the middle of a pandemic. –As told to Cameron Albert-Deitch
I’m a Black man. I’m a Black founder. And I’ve had my own experiences with racism and discrimination throughout my life. That’s a part of who I am and the lens that I see the world through.
Maybe a year or two ago, I had this idea of doing something that spoke to Black Americans the way Active Faith spoke to Christians who wanted sports apparel with Bible verses and faith-based inspirational messages. I put the idea on the shelf–but obviously, we’ve seen what’s transpired over the last several months across the country. I don’t think there’s a better time for this than right now.
One of the recurring themes from my friends who work at Nike, Adidas, Jordan Brand, Under Armour, these great companies–not just recently, we’re talking years and years–is that they’ve felt marginalized. There weren’t many of us in executive-level, decision-making, or ownership-level positions, even though it felt like Black culture was specifically targeted for consumerism.
I don’t know if the Black community feels as though these different companies and brands have necessarily invested back into the communities. So instead of us continuing to beg for a seat at this table, let’s build our own table. That’s no disrespect to those brands–I love those brands. I still have them in my closet. I’m wearing Jordans right now. But this is bigger than just the product itself. It’s bigger than just being Black-owned.
Health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, and hypertension affect Black communities disproportionately. Covid-19 is affecting Black communities at a way higher rate than any other group in the entire country. Some of that is due to the socioeconomic status of people of color in this country, and what that means for their access to great healthcare or healthy food options. If we can create a brand that speaks to our people and supports our communities, I think that can be powerful.