At a very young age, I was introduced to fashion by visiting my grandmother’s knit shop in Chicago. My earliest memories were going to her shop every Sunday; I would spend hours gazing over the array of yarn colors and fabrics. It was during those visits that I immersed myself in the world of fashion. My love for it came naturally as it brought profound comfort during my childhood.
My other love growing up, like most kids in Chicago, was the Chicago Bulls. I was lucky that my Dad got season tickets during the rookie season of Michael Jordan, and even luckier that I became the ball boy for the Chicago Bulls at the age of sixteen. At age eleven, I was overly eager to try and find a way to merge my first two loves: fashion and sports. I wasn’t sure how I was going to connect two industries together but I knew I was not going to give up. I kept conceptualizing “the how” until something finally clicked when I couldn’t find any Bulls hats that I liked. I spent mornings before school, during school, and after school drawing the ideal Chicago Bulls hat. I wasn’t the typical pre-teen. Most kids my age would be playing sports, video games and hanging out with friends. I was that introverted kid in the basement brainstorming endless hours to how to create the “perfect” hat. By a pure stroke of luck, I got the opportunity to meet my neighbor who gave me the golden ticket to work in the baseball cap industry at the age of eleven. At age twelve, my first designs hit the shelves of sporting good stores and team shops around the country. By the time I turned thirteen, Tupac, Jay Z and 50 Cent were wearing hats that I designed.
Designing hats became more than a love and a hobby. It was my safe haven, my happy place and my purpose during my childhood. It’s interesting to reflect back on those years when I desperately searched for ways to work with fashion and sports. Without knowing it at the time, I was searching for and needing comfort in my life. Growing up, I was a victim of physical abuse from a family member. I vividly remember incidents that brought instant fear to be at home but I had nowhere else to go. It was in those terrifying moments that the idea of designing clothes with a distinct purpose unfolded - the need to provide solace. I dreamed about a hoodie that I could put on that would be my protector, my place of comfort that no matter what the circumstances going on at home, I could find relief. It was that single feeling that drove me to start my own brand. How can I provide a feeling of warmth and safety? I thought if it helped me feel better, why not offer that to the world? Specifically for kids in crisis who need protection just like myself. I am finally sharing my story to hopefully reach out to the kids that need a little hope, some encouragement that there are better days ahead of them, to bring some comfort knowing they too can survive and their pain can manifest into something greater.
It has taken a lot of work to get Sportiqe Apparel up and running. There have been obstacles we have had to overcome and we still face challenges. But it’s in those moments that Sportiqe becomes more “bullet proof”. I’m happy to say that I am now surrounded with my own family as well as my Sportiqe family - and we all share the fundamental desire to make everyone feel comfortable. It’s more than what we wear – it’s a way of being with each other. I strongly believe feeling comfortable is a basic need to thrive on a personal and professional level. We have that “dream” hoodie now (the OLSEN) and many more comfortable styles too. I plan on using the platform that we have at Sportiqe to not only make people feel comfortable physically, but on an emotional level as well. I know millions of kids are dealing with the same thing that I have dealt with in the past. It’s one of the reasons I will relentlessly work to make Sportiqe Apparel a global brand. The larger that Sportiqe becomes, the stronger our platform will be to build a community for people to know they are not alone. The “OLSEN hoodie” has been symbolic of my journey and it’s a constant reminder to keep growing Sportiqe regardless of what hurdles come our way.
When Sportiqe got started remotely in my condo in Chicago and Matt’s in Phoenix, we knew we had a mission in life to make people feel comfortable. Twelve years later the Sportiqe team still carries that goal and it’s the common thread of every decision we make today. We want people to feel at ease as soon as they walk into our office, or try on one of our garments so that wherever they are, they can truly experience “comfort” at a cellular level. If you get the chance to visit the Sportiqe HQ, you can find over-sized bean bags, an open concept work space, the cold brew coffee keg, the Friday Happy Hours and the positive quotes on our walls that intentionally create a comfort culture that we all need.
I am about to walk into my 40th year on earth. These past few months, I have been taking an inventory of my life. My past is what propels my journey to continue to help all of you to be comfortable in your everyday life. I wouldn’t go back and change it. For those who are in it now… carry on!… roam on!… your story isn’t over yet! You will find your “hoodie” just like I found mine…