Former basketball player Lanny Smith had dreams of playing in the NBA. Injuries during his senior year in college and just after catching on in the NBA ended his career. He channeled his competitiveness into Active Faith clothing line and then Actively Black to change the way that brands profit off Black culture without supporting the Black community.
“A lot of these sports apparel brands have profited off of Black talent,” Smith told CNBC’s “Make It,” when referring to numerous endorsement deals with superstar Black athletes.” [The companies] have profited off of the consumerism from the Black community. And I felt like they hadn’t adequately reinvested back into the Black community.”
Who Is Lanny Smith, Actively Black?
Actively Black is a Black-owned premium athleisure and sports apparel brand with a mission to re-invest into Black communities and to improve the overall mental health and physical fitness of the Black community.
As a former player, Smith regularly taps into insights from people with experience at the major sports apparel brands in the world.
Smith counts NBA superstar Stephen Curry as an investor and someone that helps the brand realize its mission. At last year’s All-Star game, Curry wore the Actively Black “Pioneers Collection” hoodie.
Can A Black-Owned Sports Apparel Brand Take on Nike?
Taking on brands such as Nike, Adidas and Jordan is no easy feat. But Smith has built a brand that’s worth $30 million and brought in $5.6 million in revenue last year while highlighting a rotating cast of Black designers and reinvesting 10 percent of sales into organizations supporting social justice, mental health and physical health in U.S. Black communities.
“My thought process is, if we’re donating at this type of percentage, what happens when we are the multibillion-dollar brand and we’re donating that type of money back into our communities?” Smith told CNBC. “We can have a real impact.”
Actively Black is a long way away from challenging the multibillion-dollar behemoth that is Nike, but they are taking advantage of their size and social mission to capitalize on available collaboration opportunities to grow their visibility.
Partnering With Marvel And Muhammad Ali Enterprises
The Actively Black brand collaborated with Disney/Marvel Studios at the end of last year on “Wakanda Forever” and dropped an inspired Wakanda collection, featuring actress Lupita Nyong’o.
This year, in honor of Black History Month, the brand signed a multiyear partnership deal with Muhammad Ali Enterprises. The deal involves the introduction of a series of collections over the next two years designed to pay homage to the life and legacy of the legendary boxing and cultural icon.
“I took the mindset that it was time for us to stop asking for a seat at the table. And we were going to build our own table,” Smith told CNBC.
To start generating serious revenue into the tens and hundreds of millions, Actively Black knows it needs to have its gear on famous athletes while they are on the field of play in front of millions of people.
As of now the brand’s current athletes play collegiate ball, like University of North Carolina women’s hoops player Deja Kelly.
“As this brand grows, some of these athletes are going to grow up with the brand,” Smith told CNBC. “And then when it’s time for them to sign [endorsement deals at the pro level], we will at least have a seat at the table as an option for them.”
The existence of NIL deals coupled with Generation Z’s social consciousness adds up to a real opportunity for Smith to do truly do good in the community by doing well in business.