We’re catching up with CEO and Founder of G+Co. Apparel and fashion entrepreneur, Terrance Truitt. We talk with him about the all things 2020, including the unique challenges a small black-owned business faces during a global pandemic, as well as reckoning with the racial pandemic we have been facing for centuries. Thank you for your time, I hope you enjoy our conversation!
Vernon E. Williams: Growing up in Canton, Ohio, what led you to the formal apparel industry?
Terrance Truitt: I was raised in Canton, since the age of 7, but my journey really started in Gary, Indiana where I was born, and if you know anything about Gary, you know it’s a depleted community. It was an old steel mill town, so when the steel mill industry left, it really left our town struggling.
So, I was fortunate to go to a somewhat better situation in Canton. Growing up in Canton, I loved the idea of being in business and entrepreneurship. I wanted to run my own show.
VW: Where did the notion of being in business for yourself come from?
TT: The most powerful thing my mom instilled in me was when she would always say, “I’m gonna get you what you need, but you gotta go get you what you want.” So, when she bought me Payless shoes, I wanted the Foot Locker shoes, and she’d say, “Listen all you getting from me are these Payless shoes, if you want the Foot Locker, you better go get you a job.”
While she was joking about the job as a way to quiet me down, I took it at face value, and I went and got a job. So, we’re talking about 11, 12-year-old Terrance hustling throughout the neighborhood and shoveling snow, raking leaves, cutting grass, doing whatever I could. Washing cars was probably my least successful endeavor, given that you probably shouldn’t use dishwashing soap.
VW: Tell us how your early entrepreneurial spirit led to you founding your company.
TT: As I’ve stated, I’ve been finding ways to make money since I was about 11 years old. I affectionately refer to business as my first love.
I really got the idea looking at another company that was doing a subscription box. At the time, I was in my first stint in corporate America, and I was tired of the large store tie selections. I’m a young black millennial and I wanted some ties with some style, and I didn’t want the plain items I could get off of the rack.
I was talking to a friend about the subscription company, and he said, “Man you know what, it would be dope if this company was black owned.” That’s all it took to motivate me and I launched G+ Co about two months later in December 2015.
VW: What about the name, G+Co.? What was the inspiration behind it?
G+Co. is an offshoot of the original company, Gentlemen and Company. Our sole focus was really to bring back that gentlemen, that old school look, because if you look around today, a lot of people don’t know how to dress in suits and ties anymore, and so that tends to be a look, or an image, that escapes us. Now you look at places like New York, Chicago, certain parts of Atlanta, Houston and Detroit are bringing back that culture of a gentleman’s look and we want to be on the front line of that resurgence.
These movements inspired me. I felt like we really needed to reintroduce gentlemen back into society. And so, G+Co. was a rebrand when we decided to open it up to women and children as well.
VW: What more can you tell us about of G+Co. Apparel’s Women and Children’s lines.
TT: We wanted to make sure that we were inclusive to all of our customers’ needs. So, we do apparel items such as hats, hoodies, and t-shirts. We’re trying to add swimsuits, etc. But the big goal of our apparel is to make sure we’re empowering African-Americans with positive images at all levels, so you’ll see things like ‘Black Boy Joy’, ‘Black Girl Magic’, and things like ‘Namaslay’ and ‘Pretty Girls Loc.’
“I’m rooting for everybody black” was one of our signature designs. And we did it just to pay homage to Issa Rae, just knowing that no matter what we’re doing, we’re rooting for everybody black. Ultimately, our apparel brand is developed to be inclusive of everyone, and for all of those who are supportive of the culture.
VW: Very true. Now your debonair subscription box is your featured product. How would you describe the box to prospective customers?
TT: I would say our debonair box is the most diverse gentlemen’s box out there when it comes to men’s suit accessory items and lifestyle. It includes anywhere from 4-6 items monthly, featuring men’s suit accessories in addition to grooming and lifestyle items. We do everything from ties, pocket squares, lapel pins, tie bars, and we’ve done beard products.
We also partnered with Scotch Porter, the American Cancer Society for different products and campaigns. Additionally, boxes include things such as sunglasses, wine accessories and more. I mean, you name it when it comes to lifestyle and men’s items and we definitely try to accommodate them through our subscription box.
One of the things I’m most proud of about our box is that we work to partner with other small black owned businesses to feature their products at least once a quarter. This allows us to cross pollinate from a marketing perspective and circulate the black dollar amongst our people.
VW: It goes without saying that 2020 has been a year unlike any other, at least in our lifetime. Has the coronavirus pandemic led to changes any changes for G+Co.?
TT: COVID has certainly been one of the toughest things we’ve faced, and that is even more true as a young entrepreneur. The biggest change that had to be made is that we shuttered the subscription box as logistics became a nightmare for a 3-person team. Our manufacturer is based in China, and with the virus beginning there, we were looking at being two months behind on shipments.
From there we saw that the virus was spreading from a local pandemic to a global, which shut down a lot here in the states and people were losing their jobs and experiencing what now has been long term work from home. Attrition was beginning to hit us more than average by about 5-fold, so we felt it was best to stop that portion of the business and focus on a la carte items and apparel, which have proven to be pandemic proof this year.
VW: That’s really tough, but I’m glad you found ways to pivot and adapt to the times. Unfortunately, in 2020, we have also been continuously bombarded with news of another black body being brutalized. The young man in Columbus being a recent example. Aside from business, how do you view life as a black man, a black person, in the U.S.?
TT: Being black in America provides its own set of challenges for us. You know, you have geopolitical struggles; you have financial struggles and then just the struggle of finding your place in society.
Life as me for a black man, is both frightening and important. Frightening from the sense that all that I’ve worked for to this point can be stripped from me by a criminal justice system that see’s our people as guilty until proven innocent. Frightening because I have a black daughter, who I know will have to navigate a world that doesn’t see her as an equal. Frightening because being black literally has negative health effects. But it’s so important because culture doesn’t move without us, and it’s my belief that black people are truly the cornerstone of society.
So, it’s tough, honestly. But I think for a lot of us, being black is where our strength comes from. I want to be clear here, black is not synonymous to struggling, but many of us have experienced the struggles and not wanting to be back in those situations; it’s an extra motivational factor for us to get out there and to succeed because we know what the bottom looks like; we’ve been there. So, we can appreciate the level of effort it’s going to take to really work hard and really grind.
VW: Well said. Obviously, having achieved some success and having more success on the horizon, what advice would you give other black entrepreneurs, especially in the apparel industry? What challenges did you face early on, and how would you tell them to avoid the same pitfalls you encountered?
TT: I wouldn’t tell them to avoid pitfalls, because when you come across [those] pitfalls you uncover that you can succeed. [As with] many start-ups, financing was our number one issue when I first started the company.
You have to be able to stay relatable, like with our rebrand and adding women’s and children’s lines. It is important to reach out to the markets you need to reach out to, the ones that will support you. That’s probably still our number one challenge today is marketing and making people aware of what we’re doing.
Back to your question, my advice would be to just do it, just do it and when you start to do it, fight like hell.
VW: How have trying events from your youth help shape the man you’ve become? How are these events reflected in G+Co.?
TT: I lost my father when I was 11, 12 years old, and I lost my mother about 10 years later when I was 21 years old. So, you know, losing both parents at pretty critical stages in life, you either let it take you down, or you can use it as a source of strength to really make them proud. My motivation is that I really wanted to retire my parents, just because they’re gone doesn’t mean that goal changes.
And so I want to make sure when people look at me, they’re saying, “Hey, that’s Richard and Yvette’s son,” in a good way rather than shaking their heads saying, “That’s Richard and Yvette’s son,” because I know and they know I was raised better than that and I’m always going to hold that with me regardless. And, you know, just like with everything else, I use that as motivation.
VW: That is a beautiful way to turn tragedy into triumph. You are 5 years in now. Where do you see G+Co. Apparel headed in the next 5 years?
TT: G+Co. in the next 5 years will definitely be on the verge of becoming a global brand or it will be a global brand. We will be widely known as a popular brand for men’s suit accessories. That’s what we’re doing right now; we’re putting in the necessary work to make sure that the name G+Co. Apparel will definitely be one of the ones that resonates in the industry as a must have.
So, when people think about suits, when people think about the Charles Tyrwhitt’s of the world, the Joseph A. Bank’s—some of the big men’s suits accessories and clothier brands—we want to make sure that G+Co. Apparel is right up there in terms of quality and affordability, and most of all brand image.
VW: Most definitely. And I certainly believe that’s attainable, and I think you’re on the right path. So just keep your head down and when you look up, you’ll be much further along the line.
Before we conclude, I think it is important that the Black Coffy audience knows about your philanthropic work. As a young, growing business, you started a scholarship program. Why is the next generation’s success so important to you?
TT: We really have to start pouring into the younger generation. When we started the scholarship program, I wanted to try to help those next in line to realize success in their lives. For a lot of our minority students, the struggling never stops. Right now, we’re providing two $500 scholarships. We wanted to make sure that $500 could be the difference between someone getting their [college] fees paid or getting their books for a semester. We just want to make sure we have a hand in their success. And we could have put that money back into the business, but I feel like it’s equally as important to take the time out and invest into the community.
Aside from that, for the last two years we have sponsored a few teachers to bring their back-to-school wish lists to life to support education at an early age and we continue to push the mission of changing the image of our people with events such as Teach me how to tie, partnerships. What we do there is partner with schools’ other organizations and we come in and teach young men how to tie a necktie.
VW: That’s real! Terrance, we’ll be looking for much success in G+Co. Apparel’s future. Thank you for your time and wisdom.
G+Co. Apparel can be found online at gandcoapparel.com, on Instagram at gandcoapparel, on Facebook at G+Co. Apparel.
Terrance Truitt can be found on Instagram at iamterrancetruitt and Facebook at Terrance Truitt.