This Iowa-based fashion brand is changing the world—-one T-shirt at a time
Words by Lauren Reno
Though Nike seems to have a monopoly on T-shirts that bolster motivational messages, Iowa City-based clothing brand, Born Leaders United is breaking into the business with a strong message about race and poverty. BLU is an inclusive brand working to make the world a better place by encouraging leadership and producing art—whether it’s through cursive letters on a crewneck or by way of BLU’s upcoming movie about a star-crossed, culturally-charged romance, BLU’s founder Andre Wright leads one masterpiece at a time.
Wright, believes that everyone has something to offer—and to deliver, all they need is a little push in the right direction. He says that sometimes that push comes from something as simple as a motivational tee with a powerful message.
We sat down with Wright, BLU’s fashion designer, CEO, founder and executive producer, to talk about the brand, the movie and the message.
Urban Plains: How would you describe Born Leaders United?
Andre Wright: BLU is a men’s and women’s apparel line in the streetwear/leisurewear sector. And our message and our mantra is that everybody was born to do something. … Everyone is born unique and has their own individuality, and we are helping others discover that by creating a brand that expresses that exact statement. … We just help support people that are passionate about their ideas. And we try to encourage people to be leaders and just have hope about their ideas and what they want to do.
UP: So that’s the leaders part. What about the “united”?
AW: The “United” part came together when I decided that this is about all cultures. It’s not about just the black culture or the white culture or the Asian culture. If you look at any of my pieces, or anything in my marketing, there is a wide plethora of people of different backgrounds, different demographics, heights – tall, small, it doesn’t matter. … This apparel is a bridge for all.
UP: Your team definitely seems to reflect that.
AW: Well, as far as my team, I meet with every model or team member individually. Traditionally, I wouldn’t put them on my website, but I wanted to create a platform for them to be recognized this time around. I think it helps tell a better story and gives them some additional exposure.
UP: But you’re not even listed as a member of the team on your website. Is there a reason for that?
AW: I didn’t put myself on there because I truly was using this as a platform for others. Maybe I should change that tab to models? (Laughs) It’s just a platform for the models that I get the honor to work with.
UP: BLU has its own film coming out this year. What can you tell us about it?
AW: This summer or spring—we don’t have a release date yet. We are going to release a film that’s called A BLU Love Story. This film has a lot of poverty issues, a lot of racial issues, social economic issues, just all kinds of issues, but at the same time, it has our clothing mixed in because we have a message of positivity and standing up for things. It’s a really interesting film.
UP: Where was it shot?
AW: I made it in Iowa. I did all the production, all the filming, everything was done right here, so that really makes it special and gives people something to hang their hat on. We’re looking for some really big releases. We’ll do one in Iowa City, Davenport and Des Moines; and then we’ll do one in Waterloo. It’s such a great story, and I’m really excited about it, and I hope everyone comes to check it out.
UP: What would you say is the film’s main purpose?
AW: I think it’s just to show that there’s an opportunity to really create something cool. It’s just a bunch of us getting together and having fun, right? And ultimately that’s what we’re doing. We were just doing it to have fun, and I wanted it as a way to promote what I was doing as a brand designer and as a brand developer. For everybody involved, this was our first time doing this. I think a lot of people will be shocked by how good it came out.
UP: Do you think you might want to start on any other film projects in the future after A BLU Love Story?
AW: We are going to do other projects. I don’t know if we will start a production company, but certainly have other projects in the works when it comes to documenting the movement.
UP: How do the brand’s Midwestern roots impact its story?
AW: It’s unique. Think about clothing lines that are from Iowa. It’s a lot of work. And we’re all doing the work. We’re on the front lines. We’re doing all the fashion shows. We’re in the schools. We’re talking to kids about how to be leaders. We’re not just making clothes. There’s a lot of work that we’re doing so people can understand that our brand promise is very real. It’s not something that we’re just talking about, or we’re just making clothes, we’re actually moving the needle.
UP: Is it difficult getting attention outside of Iowa?
AW: Well, it was pretty tough at first, but when we started to grow it got easier. With platforms like Instagram, it makes it easier for people to reach us and see what we have going on. I’m excited about what we have been able to accomplish right from Iowa and the response we have gotten around the nation.
UP: Why do you think it’s important for a brand like BLU to exist?
AW: Well, there’s a definite need. I mean, with mental health being one of the biggest issues in the world, and people feeling depressed, losing their jobs, sometimes all you need somebody to do is just smile and that can change your day. Sometimes you just need to read something or see a word and that can change your day. And I believe that with enough of that, and if we can inspire more people to be like us and do the type of things that we do, we can get more people to have a better attitude about life. And the clothing came about because you know, you look good, you feel good, and you do good. You know, that’s kinda the whole notion. Attitude makes everything.