In honor of “Small Business Saturday” — the day small companies hope to capitalize on the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush that typically benefits big retailers (and an event endorsed by the White House this year) — theGrio sat down with a young, Washington D.C.-based clothing company: Art Official Intelligence. We spoke with one of the company’s founders, Matthew Green, to discuss the highs and lows of owning a budding business, and how they’re thriving in the competitive field of fashion.
theGrio : Who are the creators of Art Official Intelligence?
Matthew Green: Art Official Intelligence was started in 2009 by Matthew Green, Derrick Beasley, Donald Boone, and Dorian Boone; and we met in Greensboro at North Carolina A&T [college].
Well 3 out of 4 us are in the same black Greek organization, Alpha Phi Alpha, and that sparked the Art Official concept. No disrespect to the classic designs, but we were wanted to reinvent Greek paraphernalia and have it reflect today’s current style and more modern trends.
How did you guys come up with the name?
It’s a play on the word “artificial.” We wanted our clothes to originally represent our organization — unofficially — without it being so bold and in your face. As we started doing the black organization shirts, we felt we were alienating a lot of people that just wanted to
support the brand.
What made you guys start off with designing T-Shirts?
T-Shirts are an easy way to start. They are the simplest form of fashion that we feel anyone can get into and can be used dually as a form of expression. Everyone wears T-shirts and also they’re easy to produce.
CHECKOUT AOI’S OFFICIAL LAUNCH PARTY HERE
Within big businesses, they have specialized departments where they focus on one area. As a small business, do you guys wear multiple hats?
Everybody holds a lot of hats at Art Official Intelligence. We all multitask. I myself, I design; I deal with the marketing, and the overall creative direction of our product. Dorian for example, handles the legal documentation, which includes the paperwork that is necessary to keep us afloat. It’s a challenge that we welcome.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered into getting your small business off the ground?
Money is always a challenge. It’s a huge aspect in helping to get your name out there. It’s forced us to be creative in branding because funds are low.
Can you elaborate?
We’ve done a series of events called “Chasing the Cool,” for example. We partnered with a local bar and an up and coming beer company called Batch 21 to throw a beer tasting event. While this was a bit out of the norm for T-shirt company, it made us distinct to our audience because we put our name behind a different event they usually wouldn’t attend.
When you offer events outside of what’s typically expected out for a graphic T-shirt company, what message would you like your brand to represent?
It added a sense of realness and authenticity to the brand. We make sure that every step we take to promote each event is thoughtful and planned out, and its reflective of the quality of product that we do release.
This Saturday is “Small Business Saturday.” What effect do you think will this have on small businesses as a whole?
I think its huge. It shows that in our generation, that we can make something out of ourselves on “the American dream”. It shows that our president is standing behind all of our passion and ambition to help us drive the economy.
As four young, black, HBCU educated business owners, what advice can you give to anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Never give it up. If you have an idea, run with it. Research and ask questions to someone who has done it before. The only person that can hold you back is yourself.