This 26-year-old college dropout’s clothing company brings in $27,000 a month—and NBA players wear his designs

Before his streetwear brand BrownMill took off, Justis Pitt-Goodson designed, sewed and sold his own bow ties to his middle school peers.

In high school, Pitt-Goodson and two friends built the idea for the streetwear brand. He dropped out of college after two years to pursue his business full-time. About half a decade later, he’s the co-founder, creative director and CEO of the Newark, New Jersey-based BrownMill.

The company attracts NBA players as customers and brought in $327,000 in revenue last year, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.

“From an early age, I’ve always been like a hustler, an entrepreneur,” Pitt-Goodson, 26, tells CNBC Make It. “I don’t know where I got it from. Mom says I got it from my father, who was also an entrepreneur. So maybe it’s something that’s genetic.”

BrownMill’s storefront has to look, smell and feel professional because “whether you’re spending $5 or $500, you should feel appreciated,” Pitt-Goodson says.

Current and former NBA stars like Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Andre Iguodala have given BrownMill national street cred. The brand’s “Think Bigger” mantra and its upcycled patchwork clothing are all over Instagram and major cities.

But the brand didn’t skyrocket to success overnight. When Pitt-Goodson first tried to pursue BrownMill as a full-time job, he unexpectedly had to pivot to support his family instead. By 2020, the company was still bringing in less than six figures per year.

Here’s how Pitt-Goodson and his partners eventually grew BrownMill into a household name:

A childhood dream

When Pitt-Goodson looks back on his first bow ties, he says he can’t believe he was able to sell the crooked-seamed designs. But the experience gave him the confidence to pursue his dream of designing clothes.

Pitt-Goodson says he started designing bow ties in middle school, after his then-tutor let him borrow her sewing machine. Courtesy of Justis Pitt-Goodson

After befriending his two future business partners, Taha Shimou and Kwaku Agyemang, in high school, Pitt-Goodson studied business management at Rutgers University-Newark. He took internships with stylists and fashion brands in New York while juggling classes.

“I’m interning with stylists, so I’m learning different parts of every piece of the business of fashion,” Pitt-Goodson says. “I think all that mixed with going to the business school at the same time really helped shape an idea and give me a vision for what I wanted this company to look like.”

After two years, Pitt-Goodson dropped out. He figured since he already knew he wanted to grow his clothing line, his time would be better spent doing exactly that.

But shortly after he dropped out of Rutgers, his mom was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer — and his then-girlfriend found out she was pregnant with their son.

To keep things afloat, he took a copywriting job at luxury consignment company The RealReal for $17.50 per hour. He was fired after less than a year.

“It was a job that was more about production and pace rather than quality of work,” Pitt-Goodson says. “I just felt like a machine. I had a big quota every day, and I would ultimately have no time to think about what I was doing. I knew it wasn’t serving me. It wasn’t serving my spirit, and before I could quit, they fired me.”

Eyes on the prize

Without a full-time job — and with unexpected caregiving demands — Pitt-Goodson started running BrownMill from his family’s home in Piscataway, New Jersey.

He and his partners grew the brand by promoting its online store at local pop-up events until March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic began shutting down in-person gatherings. Pushing to open a brick-and-mortar location, the co-founders raised money through crowdsourcing, subscription packages and outdoor, socially distanced pop-ups.

The subscription model was a product of the co-founders’ audience analysis and his need to generate income. He says he noticed returning customers buying about 12 items across the site every year, so BrownMill responded by offering tiers of bundled clothing ranging from $200 to $1,000 per year in cost.

Customers still spend roughly the same amount, in total — a subscription gives people monthly credits to spend on the site — but BrownMill gets the money upfront, and uses it on new machinery to help scale the company, Pitt-Goodson explains.

The brand brought in $86,000 in 2020, enabling the founders to put down a $7,000 deposit on a Newark storefront that opened in June 2021. They chose the location due to Newark’s distinct shopping culture, which Pitt-Goodson discovered while working at a nearby sneaker store in college, he says.

“That was an eye-opening experience because ... I didn’t know how much my people, Black people, shop for shoes,” Pitt-Goodson says. “I recognized a shopping culture in Newark that I didn’t appreciate [yet].”

Newark is also a popular non-Hollywood location for film sets and stylists often cycle in and out of BrownMill looking for unique pieces of clothing, Pitt-Goodson says.

“That’s how kind of the Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade thing happened,” he says, noting that the three-time NBA champion posed for a photo in BrownMill’s “Think Bigger” line in July 2021. “The stylist came in and bought a whole bunch of items, and ultimately Dwyane Wade liked them and started rocking them.”

The art and rewards of over-preparing

Pitt-Goodson says he doesn’t hold himself to a minute-by-minute routine, but he does like to over-prepare. He arrives at BrownMill’s storefront every day at 8:30 a.m., two and a half hours before the storefront opens, to work on clothing alterations, plan the next collection and coordinate communication among the BrownMill team.

This year, the company is on track to reach $1 million in sales, Pitt-Goodson says. In 2023, he hopes to reach $2 million in annual revenue by getting BrownMill into traditional retail stores, he says.

Over the next five years, he wants to open two more storefronts in “growing Black communities” like Atlanta, Los Angeles or Accra, Ghana. He’s cautious about over-expanding, he adds: “We don’t want to grow to be too big, because then we lose a quality control or a level of coolness.”

Locally, BrownMill sponsors community basketball games and an urban garden in Newark, and Pitt-Goodson says he wants to be seen as an example of entrepreneurial success in his neighborhood.

BrownMill’s focus on sustainability is intentional, Pitt-Goodson says: “A lot of the pieces and furnishings in [the storefront]are made from donated things or found things that we’ve refurbished, redesign stained, drilled into.”
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“You know, we were young people that started a business and now have a store,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of young people here in Newark that might have the same aspirations but not have a reference point ... I want to be able to give a lot of Newarkians insight to what is possible.”

Megan Sauer

SOURCE https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/05/how-brownmill-co-founder-justis-pitt-goodson-launched-streetwear-brand.html
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