Show Us the Receipts: A Challenge to Build HBCU Entrepreneurship

A few months ago, a panelist on the Digest After Dark podcast asked where could she purchase authentic HBCU apparel from a company that in return, supports our HBCUs. The first entity that came to mind was Last Bison Standing. LBS is a licensed vendor and one that was originally created to provide financial assistance and funding for community service initiatives for Howard University students.

LBS is unique and exclusive to Howard; those who are not Bison or connected to the herd may have some qualms about purchasing and wearing LBS apparel. Alumni want to represent their own HBCU. (Shout out to these young Bison for making this possible and for bridging “old” and “new” Howard.)

This example of black entrepreneurship in the HBCU context creates a larger discussion about the role of the HBCU community in commerce, culture and racial identity. The performance and expression of what it means to be Black and to be Black in America on an HBCU campus is unrivaled. Our culture, our dollars, and our spending habits drive the American culture. People see what Black folk are willing to purchase– however they can– and will find a way to meet the demand.

It makes perfect sense that someone would like to capitalize off of our collective creative energy. But given what that energy represents in society, apparel companies specifically have the added responsibility of doing business the right way when it comes to our schools and their images. And that means actually being licensed to sell these images, and contributing to their attractiveness in communities with corporate giving to students and campuses.

Securing proper licensure to reproduce and sell merchandise that has HBCU logos or insignias is the very bare minimum for a business. To be very clear: it is for the protection of the company much more than it is for the financial benefit of the HBCU.

So who’s who of authentic HBCU apparel? Let’s examine.

Following LBS, two entities follow a similar profile: Tradition Ever Since & Detroit Versus Everybody.

Tradition Ever Since is licensed by 40 schools, with more than half of those schools being HBCUs. Detroit Versus Everybody is a well-known lifestyle brand and originator of the successfully trademarked “versus everybody” concept. It makes sense that an “HBCUs versus Everybody” or “Insert HBCU versus Everybody” collection should start and end with that brand.

DVE is licensed by four HBCUs to sell merchandise.

While both brands are black-owned and have some connection to the HBCU community (DVE employs HBCU alumni and The Murray Family is HBCU educated), the difference is that Tradition is in partnership with incorporated alumni alliances in Atlanta and Washington D.C. A portion of proceeds from Tradition sales goes to those 501c3 charitable organizations for scholarship support. Tradition also offers alumni fundraising opportunities by providing customized products for licensed HBCUs.

DVE does not.

Again, licensure is the bare minimum and is protection for the business.

I am almost a Sephora Rouge-level customer (75% complete). Judging from the responses on the Digest timelines, the concept of why we should support a company like Tradition and why we should question our support for a company like Detroit Versus Everybody, is lost. If we cannot bear to spend $45 on a cardigan or $90 on those GOAT basketball shorts, should we consider donating directly to the HBCU of our choice in smaller amounts? After all, we know what Tradition Ever Since, Last Bison Standing, and Rated HBCU are doing. They are growing as black-owned businesses and helping HBCUs to grow as institutions through giving back.

So here in lies the challenge. We don’t want tweets about your dismay over various price points for articles of clothing designed for HBCU graduates, with proceeds going in part to generating more graduates. We want to see the receipts.

The challenge is simple. The proper response is to either purchase something from a properly licensed company or to donate directly to your HBCU of choice. If you’re “big money band gang,” show us that you did both.

To start the challenge, we have Tradition Ever Since, Rated HBCU, and Last Bison Standing. Purchase something from either of these companies with the assurance that these are black-owned, HBCU educated and affiliated companies giving back to our schools. Many others are just a Google search away.

Orze Killgo talked about legacy and tradition in his editorial about wealthy alumni giving and what that legacy and tradition should look like on our campuses. Donating to get your name on the side of a building or a scholarship named in your honor is the highest kind of receipt you can secure for HBCU philanthropy, but it is still a receipt nonetheless.

Get yours and show it off to the world.