Laron Booth wants to start his own clothing brand. It’s something the 15-year-old Romulus High School student has long dreamt about but was never sure how to go about pursuing.
He admires fashion entrepreneurs and leaders like Tommey Walker and his Detroit Vs. Everybody brand, pointing to the intersection where fashion carries meaning. That’s what Booth wants to do, to create a clothing brand where people feel comfortable in their clothes while touting a message that is fundamentally Detroit.
Little could he have known that when he arrived at the Dick & Sandy Dauch campus of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, he would soon be on a path that would give him first-hand experience in the fashion industry as a part of Industry Club.
“When I got to Dauch, I was shy and the Industry Club opened me up,” Booth says.
Students in Industry Club learn the skills necessary for pursuing a career in fashion or starting their own clothing company from Detroiters who have already successfully done so.
The Industry Club is a part of BGCSM President and CEO Shawn Wilson’s Reimagine initiative. The program partners BGCSM youth with Detroit fashion industry professionals like Detroit is the New Black and Deviate to give students the opportunity for hands-on experience in fashion. Students learn the skills necessary for pursuing a career in fashion or starting their own clothing company from Detroiters who have already successfully done so.
It’s all part of Wilson’s plans to ensure that each BGCSM member is career- and homeowner-ready by the time they are 18 years old.
“I call them kitchen-table conversations,” Wilson says. “If your parent is an entrepreneur, you overhear aspects of that life. But often kids are missing that and programs like this help to provide that.”
Much of the Industry Club takes place at the downtown location of Detroit is the New Black, a fashion line first started by Roslyn Karamoko in 2014. Part of the DITNB retail storefront has been transformed into an instructional maker space through BGCSM’s partnership with Ponyride. Dan Gilbert’s real estate company Bedrock, which owns the Woodward Avenue building, provided a $25,000 pre-development grant and is covering the rent.
“Representation matters,” Karamoko says. “Shawn has mentioned that some of these kids have never even been downtown. To see a Black woman on the major avenue downtown, it’s that cultural exposure that can last with them long after this.”
Another major partner in Industry Club is Deviate, a Detroit-based fashion label that recently relocated its operations to the Fauver-Martin BGC in Highland Park.
“We want to provide a solid experience for students as it relates to fashion design, from sample-making to basic production to surface design,” says Cassidy Tucker, who co-founded Deviate with her sister, Kelsey.
“We try to provide some business acumen and business skills development.”
The program takes a holistic approach, teaching different facets of the fashion industry, including design, production, and running a business.
The Industry Club can provide young people an opportunity in Detroit’s fashion industry, whether they’re looking to become entrepreneurs, start a career, or simply want a summer job. The BGCSM estimates that the Industry Club will employ up to 200 youth each year.
When Jayla Harris first enrolled in the Industry Club, she hadn’t considered a career in fashion. But the 15-year-old student at the Henry Ford Academy and member of the Dauch clubhouse soon discovered a joy in creating. She’s now pursuing fashion, too.
“I really enjoy making things, sewing things. That’s something I didn’t know before. When we were first learning, it was interesting to learn how to control the machine; like when you press down it goes faster,” Harris says.
“The Industry Club is a good idea. It’s given people the opportunity to reach out and do other things instead of just being on their phones.”
Partners step up for youth
The Industry Club teaches what it takes to make it in the fashion industry from people that have done just that. The program takes a holistic approach, teaching different facets of the fashion industry, including design, production, and running a business.
Industry Club partners at DITNB and Deviate help lead the classes while other luminaries from Detroit’s fashion world, like Detroit Vs. Everybody’s Walker, offer advice, guidance, and mentorship. The program keeps students engaged with design competitions and the opportunity to see their clothes in production.
“With the design and branding program, I hope they come out of it with their own brands and we can have them here at our own retail accelerator,” Karamoko says.
The program has gone so well, says Wilson, that BGCSM is already preparing the next semester of Industry Cub with more partnerships on the horizon. He envisions additional Industry Clubs in sectors other than fashion, too.
“Two dozen partners have stepped up for our youth this year,” Wilson says. “It’s definitely been a highlight for us in a tough year.”
For the students enrolled, they’re discovering futures that they didn’t even know were available to them. And fashion is not a pipe dream, either. The Detroit fashion industry is a rapidly expanding one, says Tucker.
“We’re growing, not only in manufacturing and industrial opportunities, but in design as well. Brands are here. Brands are coming back. The cut-and-sew industry is growing. The time is now,” Tucker says.
“People are investing in the industry but who is going to benefit from that? The Boys & Girls Club is giving kids the opportunity to reap the rewards of the industry.”
That’s good news for people like Booth and Harris, who either didn’t know that a career in fashion was available to them or how to get a foot in the door.
For the students enrolled, they’re discovering futures that they didn’t even know were available to them. And fashion is not a pipe dream, either. The Detroit fashion industry is a rapidly expanding one.
And now they do. Harris says that she wants to incorporate a fashion brand into another one of her entrepreneurial pursuits, Braids by Jayla.
As for Booth, he’s working toward launching the brand “Ademe,” a name that DITNB’s Karamoko helped him develop. He says that he wants to start production in the next six months, empowered by the knowledge of how to do just that.
“It’s something I’ve always thought about doing but I didn’t know where to start,” Booth says.
“I always say that knowledge is power and the Industry Club taught me what it takes.”