I’m sure you’ve heard this joke before: Three Black men walk into a room…
Well these three brothas walked into a room, all from different walks of life, and created a space in NYC built and designed to educate, communicate and separate no one from the fact that Black life — not just Black lives (there’s a difference) — also matters. David Rasool Robinson, Adrian King Carter and Dustin Lewis’ Let’s Do Better brand and their The Doing Better Foundation have quietly become a “BOF” (Black-owned fashion) force in the crucial (not critical) theory race plays in our evolution as human beings. “Product nerds” by nature, they’ve found a way to “raise awareness on many unshared experiences, injustices and disparities that exist within the Black American diaspora” through the pieces and products they create.
So, sorry, ain’t no punchline. Because, as you are about to discover, these three Black men who walked into a room, ain’t no joke.
Adrian King Carter
Interviewed on November 17th, 2021
You all say your brand and foundation exist to end racism. Do you honestly, really believe racism will or can ever end?
DR: See, it’s not as simple as “end racism.” At the core — and this is why this is our tagline — “Changing culture through product.” Our overarching, realistic goal at the end of the day is informing (and educating). Sadly because of the structural systems that have been and are in place, it’s going to take a helluva whole lot more than a few sweatshirts and cool tees and people wearing fitteds to change that. But — and it’s a two prong concept — what we can show is one: to inform and remind people who look like us (Black folk) that we are more than just the sum of what we’ve been shown as characterized versions of ourselves, more than our situations or the structural end results of our surroundings, that we are and have been way more than what the powers-that-be try to cram into February and the other prong is for those outside of our community to inform them that this is not just about Black folk, American Black folk (in the sense that) it’s “us or nothing,” “it’s us or you gotta hit the road.” No, we’re just bringing to the table the food, the gumbo, the things that we’ve done to show our own history, our own magnificence against a dominant story and a dominant narrative that has and is always being told. We feel that all of that at the very least, while we’re not foolish enough to believe that will end racism, we do feel that we can use the low hanging fruit of product, of visual storytelling, of other things we are into and passionate about to at least get people to the table and begin that discussion.
DL: As I agree and don’t think we realistically think together us three will end racism, but what I do think we have is a realization that we have the ability to influence a certain demographic and over the past 10-15 years that’s been exercised through product. Through the different company’s we’ve worked for we’ve had the unique ability to make product alluring and in-turn make (other) companies millions of dollars. We got to a point where we realized that influence can be used for our community and for better, so we decided to get to that. And to answer your question if racism will ever end? Personally, I do think it will end. It will take many, many generations but I do think people as a whole have the ability to. I think hopefully in the next 100-200 years racism won’t be one of the mediums used anymore to exclude and divide different groups.
Dustin Lewis, Photo by Sean Hopkins
Is the message you all are sending out directed at us (Black ppl) and our community or someone else and theirs?
DL: Just as it’s important for us to be telling these stories for our community to read because they don’t learn it in school, we realize this is for theirs as well. We want to build the necessary empathy from the majority because they are the ones who will be able effectively to make the change necessary.
DR: I personally feel both. Because right now we have that two prong goal, fortunately or unfortunately. It goes to what I said earlier: On one side inside our community reminding and outside of our community informing.
I asked you all that question because I used to get questions all of the time about who exactly I am directing my stories and my style of writing to, who is it meant for? And I’ve always said: I write for us (Black folx) but I write it to them (white folks). Like, let’s just take the RBG flag you all have on the sides of the Yankee, Dodgers and White Sox caps you have on your product. Who is that message directed to? From a messaging standpoint, who do you all want that to resonate with the most? Is it white folks you all need to see this? Or is it Black folx we need to embrace this? It’s so unapologetic.
DR: First, off top, that flag, beside being an homage to our people it’s an homage to David Hammons and him creating the African-America flag. But the flag on the caps are to a degree (recognizing) the double-consciousness that applies in a variety of ways when it comes to our existence in America. We’re American, yes, but we also have no direct ties to Africa, yet we deal with being Black in a completely different way yet we made this country just as much as the hardened, so-called patriot. And that’s something I don’t think we should shrug off so quickly. We put in that work, the blood, the sweat, the tears. So on one hand there’s where we are speaking to greater America, then there’s at the same time we can not ignore or turn our backs on our own, specific America that we deal with which is in stark contrast to that greater America.
...we made this country just as much as the hardened, so-called patriot. And that’s something I don’t think we should shrug off so quickly.
So wait, sorry to cut you off David, but what happens when you all see a white person in one of your caps (laugh)?
AKC: I’ve had a few different conversations, one I’ve had with a few white friends who are very close, very supportive of the brand and what we are doing, who have been like, “Dawg, I really would love to support it but I just feel odd rockin’ that cap.” And I’m like, “True, I feel you but now imagine what a Black person feels having to rock that same Yankee cap with the American flag on it? Knowing that history.” Man, when you see their faces, it’s like, “Oh, ok, I get it (laughs).” So it’s like if you all don’t feel we should feel uncomfortable by wearing the American flag then you should feel comfortable wearing the African-American flag.
You all’s foundational breakdown includes equal distribution community organization, educational institutions and scholarships. Why choose those as the pillars to where you feel the company’s impact will be best served?
DL: Us choosing different topics to educate lends ourselves to benefitting, whether it’s a community organization like the YMCA, whether it’s the jazz group at Benjamin Banneker High School in Bed-Stuy, whether it’s an organization that helps teach Black history more accurately like the Carter Center in Missouri, (as long as) it’s predicated on the topic we’re teaching we found that those three buckets —community organizations, educational institutions and scholarships — are naturally where these beneficiaries come from. We always think that scholarship is one of the most integral components to push our race forward. And if we can annually put one kid through college for 1 to 4 years, I think the three of us can sleep very happily.
David Robinson, Photo by Sean Hopkins
As a company, because you all purposely put it in your company profile and portfolio, what is your definition of “necessary empathy?”
DR: The three of us have been blessed to have seen more than maybe we would have if we didn’t end up in our chosen career paths, and with that rampant travel it’s allowed (us) a great deal of perspective. And I personally believe that is one of the important and paramount things especially if we are to get over this constant hurdle that we (as a people) have been dealing with for over 400 years. That we are still talking about in 2021, that need for an LBD (Let’s Do Better) and a Doing Better Foundation. So first it’s perspective. Even as a common joke that Black folx have amongst ourselves or the one white folks may have heard or chime in on good jest or have made the joke about us not knowing how to swim. Now, as with most things there’s a core historical cause and sequence of events that led to this. It wasn’t just one day we woke up and we’re like, “Eh, naw, I’m good on swimming. No thank you!” (All laugh) No! As with most things the reasoning behind that goes untold. Once these histories are told and these perspectives are shown the empathy related to that reasoning and perspective draws people closer.
DL: If we can accumulate all of the “Damns:” “Damn I didn’t know this. Damn I didn’t know that. Damn I wasn’t aware,” I think with that empathy, with that understanding of the actual history of what has not been taught, what has been hidden from us, is when the next generation will have that understanding to be able to want to be the change necessary to close that gap. Whether it’s the financial gap, the education gap, the socio-economic gap. Just the understanding of the true history, I think will lead to the emotional heartstrings of the majority and hopefully that will be the instigating point that sparks said change.
...the understanding of the true history, I think will lead to the emotional heartstrings of the majority and hopefully that will be the instigating point that sparks said change.
Speak to me about the importance of the re-iteration of the AJ 2 and the importance of the role Virgil’s played in elevating himself in this Black fashion/design space.
DR: We were thinking internally: What is the next shoe that before the end of the year that will be something substantial that we would want to partner with and see if we can generate proceeds for our non-profit? And it wasn’t an accident or coincidence that we chose the OW x Jordan 2. One, it’s a very interesting, very striking, very polarizing shoe and two, the proximity to Virgil and what he’s been doing in this space as far as social justice work, raising awareness to those who are assisting in doing their best to highlight creatives of all iterations and highlight causes. Also, the thing I like is that it’s also the discussion the shoe has ignited and the conversations Virgil’s designs on them have. You have the hardcore heads who are like, “This isn’t like what Mike wore.” And to a point, I used to be like that, up until a few years ago when you get to a point where you’re like: Yeah, those aren’t the exact example of what Mike wore, but how many times can you keep coming out with the same or similar product before it becomes muted or moot?
AKC: I remember when Dustin brought it to me, mind you we all work in the same space so we all know what these raffle systems look like, we all know the type of attention it will generate, so to put all of these elements together into one initiative makes the most sense in the world and I think it worked out beautifully.
Adrian King Carter, Photo by Sean Hopkins
On the media side of storytelling we’ve always believed “content is king,” you believe “product is king.” When was it that you all came to the realization that product spoke to a greater need than content?
DR: We live in a time now where information, content, etc. is at an all-time high. But unfortunately attention spans are at an all-time low. With that thought, coupled with the idea that there are certain things (for people) that are aspirational, product and items and things are at an all-time high, but unfortunately we only have one earth and I don’t want to add more trash or noise to an already burden system or an already burden world and I’m not going to come out with some bullshit product just to make some bread (money), I want to have a reason. Now we don’t feel that our story or any story can be summarized in two-to-three seconds. So as creatives, if we are going to tell our story though product, let’s do our best within our means and our reach to make the best product, the most considered product and makes some things where you can grab something we created that maybe after a week, maybe after a month, maybe after a year, you’re like “Oh, shit” I didn’t notice the red, Black and green threading on the side of the crew (sweatshirt) or that the packaging is biodegradable or the shorts are made out of ECONYL or it’s a custom tee with the best screen print or it’s a fit that you’re not just going to have now but one that five years from now, ten, twenty years from now, not only does the story gets passed down, but hopefully the product gets passed down as well.
DL: To piggyback on what David just said, I think there is no other time that’s more prime to use product as a vehicle to educate. Because we see how influential product has become on a larger demographic. Look at fashion and how it’s included in sports. Now, it always has been but you can see now how it’s been amplified to the next level. You can see in music how fashion has been amplified to the next level. And you can see the response to that by the next generation. If you ask a kid what he or she is spending their money on now, nine-times-out-of-ten they’re spending their money on product. So if we know that that’s the sweet spot that’s going to grab the next generation’s attention, it’s on us to be in the best position to create that vehicle — that efficient vehicle — to tell that story. We’re just trying to evolve the way of education and I think we realized that product is an extremely influential tool for the next generation. And if we can lean into that, I think we have a good chance of creating a real impact on the next generation which is so integral in changing the course of American history. If we can get ahead of it now, I think the generation after that will be in even a better place.
AKC: Honestly, it’s even a shock to me for certain people I’ve talked to just knowing that it’s even a real thing to look at these initiatives and say it’s “too Black.” That’s what I’ve heard a lot. Or, “We’re not Black enough for it.” And I’m like, “What does that mean?” If you support it, you support it. There’s no 50/50 to it. If you’re with the cause, you are with the cause. At the end of the day it’s about communication. If we’re crafting these stories about our experiences and we want to relay to others, what better way to do it than product. Because that’s where everyone’s focus is right now. We’ve worked with various companies that are high on the food chain and we know what the reaction is to product. And that solidified our choice in how we as a brand and foundation wanted to communicate.