In 1997, devout Christian and Austin native William Black was a few years into his career as a clothing designer. He was living out his dream of working with a “secular” line to design and create clothing for average consumers and celebrities alike. So well regarded was his work that Cedric “The Entertainer” even wore his baseball cap in the concert film “Original Kings of Comedy.”

However, despite the success, Black felt that there were other untapped new territories he could expand to.

“I decided I no longer wanted to work for a traditional secular line,” said Black. “I felt that what was meant for me to do was develop a clothing line that specifically targeted consumers of Christian-inspired apparel. I had become deeply motivated, and it was time for me to put the Lord’s calling into motion by way of design”

Leaving the ranks of secular clothing behind him, Black gathered all the financial resources he could to start Christ First Clothing Co. in 1998.

Christ First, headquartered on the South Side, is the first and only Christian clothing company with national distribution. The company manufactures its own goods from scratch.

“One of the things I thought about was the fact that people who wanted to wear religion-themed clothing had few options on the market,” Black recalled. “With the exception of t-shirts, which are limited in the number of places they can be worn, I wanted consumers to be able to express their religious affiliation through their attire while also being fashionable as well.”

Many of those in the industry scoffed at the idea. They reasoned that no one would want to wear a sports jersey that displayed the name of their savior, as if it were a common sports team. However, the “Christ First” jersey’s is currently the line’s top seller. The response from clients, Black said, has been very positive.

Clients have the option of imprinting custom names on the backs of their jerseys or embroidering their favorite scripture onto a jersey sleeve.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with (gospel singers) Donnie McClurkin, Vicki Winans, Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond as well as, (retired N.Y. Knicks guard) Allan Houston and (Yankees Right Fielder) Gary Sheffield,” said Black. “They’ve all

been very supportive in helping to promote the line and the message.”

Many of Black’s celebrity clients had heard about him and his line. Many contacted him personally. It was an unexpected development considering the fact that prior to 2004 the company had done little advertising or distribution.

“Advertising can cost a bundle,” Black said, “so I am very thankful to have the support of Mr. Houston and McClurkin. We’re all dedicated to the mission of allowing people to access clothing that promotes the Lord’s message as easily as clothes that promote 50 Cents’.”

In 2004, Christ First Clothing Co. was accepted by Central South Distribution Inc. to handle its distribution. In the 34 years since it opened, CSD Inc. has become the largest distributor of faith-based compact discs in the country. CSD had to be coaxed into distributing a Christian clothing line.

“I think I wrote, called, visited and otherwise harassed every representative of

CSD Inc. at least monthly for four years until they accepted,” said Black. “It was certainly one of the major triumphs of my career knowing that the distribution of my products (which include hat’s t-shirts, and sports jersey’s) will be handled by such a well regarded company. “

Over the last eight years, Christ First Clothing clients have included Donna Richardson, wife of radio “Fly-Jock” Tom Joyner, Chase Bank of New York and Johnson and Johnson Co. Black has done the attire of gospel groups as well as family reunions.

Black, born and raised in Austin, attended Charles Steinmetz High School on the North Side, also ironically the alma mater of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner. Black, always drawing and musing about designs between periods, later took graphic design at Robert Morris College.

Black said he hopes that in the next three years Christ First Clothing will be distributed nationally by both Christian and secular retailers. Black added that he wants to do more faith-based events and collaborations with liked-minded community leaders, radio and media outlets and churches, both locally and abroad.

“It’s very important that I continue to expose our clothing ministry and custom design, and manufacturing capabilities to the masses,” Black said.

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