Phillip Brooks, 17, envisioned himself presenting a TED talk as he pitched his clothing line before a panel of three judges inside the Oak Park Public Library’s second-floor Veterans Room last Thursday.
“I’ve always wanted to make clothes that could merge the two worlds of high-end fashion and urban street wear,” said Brooks, explaining to judges how he birthed his business, King Wear Royal Apparel.
The judges, who included Cathy Yen, the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce executive director, were impressed enough by the teenager to award him the $700 first-place prize in the July 14 business pitch competition.
“Their spirit of enthusiasm was impressive,” said Yen, who in addition to judging also taught the young people how to write a business plan among other important entrepreneurial functions. “The amount of research and time they put into it was just so impressive.”
Three other budding businesspeople took home awards, splitting a total of $3,600 in prize money.
The teens were part of a summer program, which included 12 participants in all, who worked with library staff mentors and local business leaders to develop business ideas, create business plans and figure out ways to come up with funding, said Jodi Kolo, the library’s communications manager.
Brooks, who lives on Chicago’s West Side and plans to attend Howard University in Washington D.C. in the fall, said the idea to start a clothing line came to him over a summer of being stuck inside of the Harold Washington Library.
“I grew so bored that I started designing and sketching inside of a sketchbook,” Brooks said in a recent interview. “A representative from the library saw me and told me there was a way to put those designs onto my own t-shirt. Over the summer, we found out how to do that and from that it became a brand.”
The clothes, which Brooks said sold out after the first production run, include t-shirts designed in a minimalist style that feature quotations, such as “Chicago is the Future,” and single words like “King,” and polo shirts stitched with King Wear’s crown logo in the front that the teenage entrepreneur cleverly told the judges could be worn to a party or while presenting a TED-style business pitch.
Brooks said he gets creative inspiration from a variety of different artists and musical genres, such as the Chicago hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper, who Brooks considers a friend; Kanye West; urban wear designers like Daymond John, the Shark Tank host and FUBU fashion line co-founder and CEO; and his grandfather, an old-school R&B buff who put his grandson onto acts like Frankie Beverly and Maze, and the Temptations.
“I always seem to be listening to old-school R&B when I’m producing my best designs,” said Brooks, who has also showcased his clothes at Chicago Fashion Week for two years running. He said he plans to spend his winnings to invest in more inventory so that he might expand his brand to Washington D.C., where he hopes to pursue his business ambitions while attending classes.