Ever had the privilege of stepping a stiletto or sneaker on Howard University, better known as the “Black Mecca’s,” campus? Arriving in D.C. and on Howard’s pristine grass isn’t a much different experience than visiting other historical black colleges and universities, most of which are located in rough neighborhoods or in unpopulated country sides throughout the South and the DMV. But it isn’t the historic buildings or storied alumni that separate the “real” HU from other HBCUs and elevates them to national ranking lists. It’s their legion of students, who exit that campus with a confidence that is almost unparalleled. Most of them believe that with Howard’s symbol on their degrees, they can conquer the world.
Brian Louis, Howard University School of Business alum, has secured a fashion cape around his neck and descended on the DMV with IPO Lifestyle, a fashion brand created in 2009. Sitting in his business courses with other future leaders and shakers, Louis knew one thing was certain: He never wanted to be limited in what he was capable of accomplishing with his degree.
In a voice filled with strength and wisdom he explains, “I had the mindset in school that I didn’t want a cap to be put on my income. When you work for others, there’s a cap on what you can make. I wanted to go into a field where there wasn’t that cap while also making a difference in my community and the people I represent.”
In an effort to reach the intellectual, creative and innovative college crowd who “make a bold statement when walking out of the door,” Louis partnered with another student, Jason Coles, to launch IPO with a grassroots movement, reminiscent of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Their preliminary goal was to saturate the college clothing market with a unique product that their target demographic would be interested in.
“From our models to the way our websites look to our designs in general, we really wanted to be different. One thing that we noticed was that other brands targeted toward college students were very gaudy and logo-driven. So, we wanted to give the consumer another option with IPO.”
Determined to think outside-the-box, Louis and Coles sat in an office together and analyzed their competition until they figured out how to be different in their lane. Then, the duo focused their attention on propelling IPO from an idea into a profitable venture. This required sacrifice, dedication and lots of business savvy.
“I gained the capital by seeking out small investments with a lot of my peers,” Louis explains. “I received short-term funding from a lot of people we went to school with and we were working age, so we put up a lot of our capital ourselves.”
But there are hundreds of clothing lines targeted toward college students. From popular Abercrombie to expensive Billionaire Boys Club, these brands are established and frequented among students. Realizing this, Louis and Coles chose to brand IPO by relating themselves to a charitable cause and remaining true to their unique path.
“We did an all-black everything campaign where we brought attention to the nonprofit, Invisible Children,” he says. “We’ve been paying homage to our stories with IPO. All of our pieces tell a story of where we come from. For instance, the D.C. Flag collection that we’re promoting right now … we were founded in the D.C. Our motto is “Birds of a feather flock together,” so we have shirts with some semblance of that. The feather is our logo. We take it as a sign of intelligence. Early thinkers, like Thomas Jefferson, always used a feather in writing laws to lead the country.”
Though Louis credits the entrepreneurial spirits of himself and his partner for IPO’s success – the brand is in the black – he owes some of his victory to Howard. And he doesn’t cower from admitting that truth.
“[Those classes were] very important because they really showed me how to be thorough in terms of how I research things, the company I keep in terms of my business and how to pay attention to detail, which is important.”
Howard, like most HBCUs, provides a nest of black intellectual leaders and progressive thinkers to nurture students and provide them with the essentials to survive in a tumultuous economic climate. Louis is one of those successful products and he hopes to continue excelling.
“One day, I want to own a Hollywood studio and I also want to start a non-profit that teaches entrepreneurship to inner city kids,” he says. “I want to start a charity that can give kids the tools to succeed.”
But right now, in this moment, Brian Louis’ focus is on growing IPO into the number one clothing brand in the DMV through grassroots efforts and branding. He is well on the correct path to accomplish this goal.
So, his three words of advice to other entrepreneurs reside on solid foundation that is testimonial to what Brian Louis and Jason Coles have been able to accomplish:
“Never give up.”
You can contact IPO through social media and their website.
Facebook: IPO Lifestyle