Sportswear giants like Nike and Adidas have made billions with Black American athletes as the face of their companies. But for Lanny Smith, a former college standout and NBA player himself, these marketing deals were not enough.
"I think ownership is very important and ... we have far too long only been consumers and not owners," he said.
Smith is the CEO and founder of Actively Black, an athleisure and sports apparel brand started in the wake of George Floyd's murder.
"Part of the motivation for this was, I saw a lot of these brands post, you know, the murder of George Floyd, come out with a lot of performative declarations about what they were gonna do for the Black community. And, you know, to me, it just felt like it was just part of their marketing strategies," Smith said.
Actively Black says their company is valued at $30 million.
Smith says he's building Actively Black to rival those billion-dollar brands but more importantly to reinvest in Black communities. He says 10% of his profits last year went to organizations like Black Kids Code, Our Own and The Liberation Fund.
Scripps News reached out to both Nike and Adidas for reaction but have not heard back.
Since Actively Black launched in November 2020 it has already made the rounds on celebrity row. Steph Curry, Lupita Nyong'o, Steve Harvey and a former president have all been spotted in the apparel.
"The same joy that I get seeing whatever NBA player, whatever wearing it, when I'm in the airport and I randomly see just somebody going to catch a flight and they're wearing Actively Black, man, it hits me the same way," Smith said.
The company also served as the official outfitter for the Nigerian Bobsled Team during the 2022 Olympics and partnered with Marvel to create Wakanda Athletics, a full circle moment for Smith who was inspired by the "Black Panther" film.
"Even then I was like, 'I want to create that brand that will make our people feel the same way I felt walking out of 'Black Panther' for the first time,'" Smith said.
Smith says the support he's received from the Black community and the success his company has enjoyed is overwhelming.
"I've got opportunities now that the previous generations didn't have," he said. "My mother grew up in Jena, Louisiana, and was part of a class that integrated schools ... There's so much of this that literally is one generation away."
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