The ordinary-looking house in the 900 block of North Waller is also a sort of warehouse for an apparel business fronted young African-American entrepreneurs. It was also the site for a visit by a local politician looking to support the upstart, job-making company.
State Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th) spoke of high hopes for the business, Forever Fly LLC, which he visited last week, part of an effort to bring more jobs to Austin.
Austin resident Theartis Clary, founder of Forever Fly, showed the lawmaker around his mother’s small basement, where he’s combined six silk screen printers to produce T-shirts.
The company’s designs revolve around its double-F logo, often putting twists on recognizable symbols, like the Chicago Bulls logo. Clary said he’ll print clients’ customized designs and keep the wooden frames for display in the basement to show the variety of T-shirts they make.
Through word of mouth, and passing out promotional wristbands, the business has produced more than 5,000 shirts since January. Customers who aren’t local can order online (www.imforeverfly.com.).
“We just sent shirts out to the U.K.,” Clary said.
He invited Ford to check out his one-year-old business after meeting him at a domestic violence awareness event last summer. Ford said he’ll now try to help Clary get registered as a minority business owner. Doing so would provide counseling on running a small business, and minority businesses are often given preference when the state or city needs a business or service performed.
Ford said there’s a clear lack of small businesses in Austin, a fact apparent to many who live or spend time in the city’s most-populated neighborhood. But any business like Forever Fly can be supported on a state or city level if it’s considered for certain contracts, Ford said — like printing uniforms for inmates at Cook County Department of Corrections.
If opportunities like that are possible, Ford stresses it would encourage others in Austin to open their own small businesses.
“We want to inspire people to use their talents,” he said.
Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) said she wants to have special planning sessions to encourage small businesses to open in her ward’s Tax Increment Financing district — areas where tax dollars are reserved to help redevelop a blighted area. New business owners, she said, can use this TIF money to fund their developments.
Graham said she’s working on setting dates for the planning sessions.
Clary, who runs the business with his three friends, recalled wanting to create a business after they left college. They wanted to help improve Austin and send a social justice-related message. For instance, one shirt on their website has a skyline shaped from guns and has the label “Chiraq,” comparing the city’s gun violence to the Iraq war.
The businessmen also devised the “No Child Left Unfly,” to support investing in children and their education, Clary said.
For now, the team isn’t considering opening up shop in Austin beyond the basement headquarters, but they are eyeing space in Chinatown, Clary said.
But Clary stressed that the company wants to bring profits back to the Austin community. When the business is well-established, he said they’ll create a nonprofit arm to donate to schools in the area.
“We want to see this area get better,” Clary said. “That’s what this was about.”