“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. President Kennedy stated those words years ago. But they still reign true, even at a local level. The DCorNothing clothing line has become a popular item in the D.C. area. The founder of the line, Tony Lewis, Jr. has entrenched himself in civic service to his native city. In generations past, the civic leaders impressed upon eager followers the need to push for power among the people. In far too many instances, the goals were not met. In the African-American community, a part of the problem included a lack of leadership from the business community. In other cultures and races, it’s been the standard for business owners to ascend to community leadership. Tony came to the conclusion that it’s difficult to help the less fortunate if the civic leaders remain less fortunate themselves. Despite people urging for more non-profit work, Tony decided that a for-profit business would help to a) get the word out about supporting all that is D.C. and b) create an additional stream of income to help those in need.
Tony was gracious enough to share some insight about his efforts with “DCorNothing”.
The term “DCorNothing” has gone viral in the DC area. How did the term turn into an opportunity for a clothing line?
It was a term that I started using during my community events and then on twitter in early 2011. It became a hashtag that I would use in my tweets ( #DCorNothing) and it spread like wild fire. On his second album “Ambition”, my good friend Wale included a song entitled “DC or Nothing” and it went extremely viral. They say that there is seven degrees of separation between humans, in DC that separation is 2 degrees. I’ve always envisioned something that would allow strangers to know they had mutual friends or associates. There is a true power in commonality. When people know that they have something in common or know the same person, they interact differently. As the mantra “DCorNothing” became more popular in a viral sense, I figured that a t-shirt or hoodie could be that visual to unite or show that connection in a literal sense. That mutual friend or associate that people would have in common would be me. Essentially, that was the motivation for the DCorNothing Line, wasn’t with the intent of creating a clothing line, but a movement of sorts. The clothing would symbolize your membership or support of the overall movement. It may sound far fetched, but my dream was to have a t-shirt stop a dispute from starting, or squash a beef, or start a relationship all on the basis that people knew and supported me. I wanted to be that kind of link or bridge for people. I realized that I couldn’t be that in all situations, but the movement could because it would be about our relation to each other and not just the supporters and their relationship to me.
You went from selling apparel out of your trunk, to developing an online site. What has been the biggest business adjustment as a result of going online?
The biggest adjustment during this transition from trunk to online has been getting people accustomed to ordering online and not expecting me to have 20 hoodies in my trunk. At the same time a lot of my initial customers don’t necessarily shop online, so I have had to find a method to continue to accommodate them. I am so excited about the website and our ability to connect with people all over the world with roots and relationship to the DC area.
As a civic leader, many would expect all of your efforts to be for free. Has it been a challenge transitioning into a for-profit business and maintaining support from patrons without giving “hook-ups”?
It has been very difficult in that sense. People are so used to me giving away everything, that it is almost an expectation that I will give away something that I’ve paid money to have created. A lot of people want hookups and I find that to be extremely selfish, especially because I have been so selfless in my giving to my community. I will continue to perform my civic duties, but the two things are separate entities. People need to also understand that I have never had a non-profit. I’ve never been “funded” by any entity or person. All of my giving has been out of my own hard earned money and the support of others that wanted to contribute positively into other people’s lives . At the same time I have been blessed by those that act the opposite and don’t have a problem paying market price for quality items.
What have been some of the favorite apparel items since the launch of the site?
The “RG3” hoodie , the “Hanover” Raglan and the “DC Flag Jon’t” tee have been some of the favorites thus far.
Many of the items on the site have a “theme”. For example the “Carlos Rosario” tee, the “Taraji” tee, the “Mitch Snyder” tee and of course the “RG3” hoodie. Talk about the inspiration behind those themed items.
I just wanted the items to have names that were intrinsically DC. Moreover, I wanted to honor the city’s best by naming certain items after people that have made major contributions to the city, its people, and it’s culture. I also wanted to be able to educate the customer on some of the nuisances and dynamics of the city that they may not be aware of.
Because the overall theme is “DCorNothing”, do you encounter people who are hesitant to purchase because they are not from D.C.? And how do you respond to those who may feel left out of the movement?
We definitely run into people that are hesitant or skeptical of the term “DCorNothing”. It was never something to be divisive. It was intended to unify. I can remember a conversation that I had with radio personality Big Tigger then of WPGC radio and he voiced a similar opinion, which I understood. After I explained my ideology he got exactly where I was coming from and where I’m going with the brand. My philosophy is if you live, party, or work in the District you have a responsibility to make it a better place. So you don’t have to be a native Washingtonian to embrace a movement set forth to unite people across all racial, social, and economic lines. The only requirement is that you just have to care.
There have been a lot of clothing companies popping up with D.C. themes and logos with the D.C. flag. With the increase in D.C. based apparel, how do you plan to set your line apart from others?
I think that we are already set apart because people know that this brand is not only about fashion with us. We don’t want to be the best clothing line in the city. What we want to do with the site is to create a marketplace to highlight the best fashion lines in the City. In 2013 we will be looking to give various designers from the DC area a platform through our site to get them exposure and support. Showing the greatness of our city and garnering support for it is what DCorNothing is about.
What’s next for the “DCorNothing” movement?
Aside from supporting local designers and local artists, we plan on creating a “DCorNothing” campaign with our area professional sports franchises. DCorNothing should be on merchandise and arenas for the Nationals, Redskins, Wizards, United, and Capitals. We also want to start a DCorNothing Ambassador Program aimed at city tastemakers and youth alike to further the brand. It would be amazing to have the DC Government embrace the mantra. There is nothing in DC or at its core that is “ DC” that cant utilize the term. This is something that is for the people, by the people. I want to give special thanks to Kibwe Hughes and Derrick Washington for all their tireless work, vision and creativity. DCorNothing!!