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Des Owusu on Building a Brand That Unites

For creative, design artist, and educator Des Owusu, launching his clothing brand, We All We Got, in 2014 was about more than just selling clothes. It was about embodying the essence of his community — a community that is rooted in creativity, love, and togetherness. Through the challenges of 2020, Des has stayed true to his brand vision and stayed afloat as a business. We spoke with Des about the origins of his brand, his efforts to continue to create space for his community during the pandemic, and the biggest lessons he learned in 2020. 

SQUARESPACE: What’s the story behind the name “We All We Got”? How does the meaning behind this name play into your designs?

Des Owusu: “We All We Got” is just one of those phrases that’s been around in Black culture since forever. I started a brand called “Squad” back in like 2014. For the design I made it say “Squad” and flipped the infamous swoosh right underneath it. I threw that design on this orange towel and sold it on the 4th of July and it sold out so fast. “We All We Got” was just the tagline then. One of my big bros advised me to eventually transition the name of the brand to “We All We Got” because it had more longevity andddddd here we are! 

I look at “We All We Got” and for me it’s synonymous to family, community, gang, and love. It’s the feeling of being ride-or-die for the people you love. Holding it down for your people. I look at my brand as a vessel to bring people together, celebrate Black creativity, and also represent my people and where I come from. Life is beautiful but life can also be cold you know. I think it’s better to live life with and for the people you love and that love you. Love can keep you warm. 

SQSP: If you could describe WAWG in three words, what would they be? 

DO: Hmmmmmmmm, I’m going to be a fake poet and answer this question with a few sets of 3 words. Ready? Ok bet, here we go:

1. Stronger together forever

2. United we stand

3. Divided we fall 

4. I love Us

5. In this together

SQSP: You describe your retail space and workshop as a vehicle as a vehicle for others to express their ideas and visions. How have you continued to cultivate this community in light of the pandemic? 

DO: When we first opened up in 2013, our goal then and our goal now is to always stay true to our people, especially the ones that have supported us for 7 years! Actually, our 7 year anniversary will be this Black Friday 2020 which is crazy. But with whatever we do, our major concern is the people. When the pandemic first hit, we came together and developed multiple ways to help our community financially by raising $50,000 through a relief program. Another member of our team created another initiative where he provided financial contributions to local businesses in our cities as well as the major food bank in Chicago. We did this all through our medium of t-shirts. It’s crazy what tees can do, you know, but that’s our language and people relate to what we do and what we stand for.

SQSP: We noticed that you recently underwent a website update. What role has your website and your online presence played as a whole in your creative and entrepreneurial journey? 

DO: It’s not easy having a brick-and-mortar. You’ll hear that cry come from all the way up top from the big department stores all the way down to your smaller stores/boutiques. Rent ain't cheap and rent ain’t stop during the pandemic for us. But all praises due to the internet gods… seriously. For a moment, when the pandemic first hit, damn near everyone in the world was scared and it put businesses like us in a tough position because we were a bit apprehensive to ask people to buy things. One thing I learned during this quarantine is that people will shop — whether it’s for necessities or even if it’s for some retail therapy just to help you feel some type of normalcy — people gon’ shop. Noticing that, we paid even closer attention to our online presence and website interaction with our consumers. We have support all across the country and we don’t take that lightly, because it’s really a blessing for a small independent store in Chicago owned by black men to have that type of love. But yeah I love the internet… we’ve done great things together <3. 

SQSP: 2020 was a year of firsts for all of us, but especially for creatives and small business owners. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past year, creatively or otherwise?

DO: 2020 was definitely a year of ups and downs for many of us… I feel like we can all agree with that. But for me this whole year reminded me to not take anything for granted because nothing is permanent. A sense a normalcy can be gone just within 30 days. I lost my pops in mid January this year (may he rest in peace), released 2 shoes with a global athletic brand in February, and then BOOM coronavirus slid in the whole world’s DMs and shook everything upside down. It just made me realize that every day counts like crazy and creatively this year I learned that breakdowns or breakthroughs, the goal is always to rise above and keep going.

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