Recent graduates stake their claim in the fashion business with Fresh By Fortune

Ryan Young

Nine months after graduating from Kent State, where will you be? Watching reruns of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” on your parent’s couch or maybe hitting up that job website you heard about? Four best friends are doing something fresh, but it has nothing to do with Will Smith.

Calvin Taylor, Blaise Meeker, Willie Dies and Josh Dies are releasing a winter clothing line soon for anyone else who shares their taste in clothing design. What began as four friends screen-printing a few T-shirts for an entrepreneurship class project two years ago has transformed into a passion for designing and selling clothes for their own clothing company: Fresh By Fortune.

Denise Easterling, the professor of the class that the project was assigned in, recalls the boys being very engaged and bringing a new enthusiasm to the class each day.

Easterling encouraged her students “to move forward, be independent and create their own futures, rather than relying on others to do so.”

In any case, something clicked with the enterprising 23-year-olds. In October, FBF released a fall line consisting of T-shirts, backpacks, hoodies and hats, most of which are emblazoned with the company‘s peace inspired logo.

“We came up with the olive branches and the FBF intertwined for a more upscale looking logo,” Taylor said.

Fresh By Fortune is introducing their winter line under a dual-label — a marketing strategy employed, to a less stratified extent, by other urban clothing companies like Sean John and Ecko.

“It’s divided up into two labels: the Fresh label, consisting of T-shirts and hats, like street or urban clothing; and Fortune, which is a more upscale, high-fashion, business casual look,” Taylor said.

Willie Dies, vice president of FBF, admitted to having concerns about being pigeon-holed before the company had a chance to establish an identity.

“We don’t want to be stuck in the hip-hop casual wear category, we want to capture different markets,” Willie Dies said.

The best way to do that: “Not making any crap,” he said. “These are quality articles – no Jerzees – no Hanes – just better material that stays around awhile.”

By looking at the company’s clothing designs, it’s easy to see where their creative mindset resides; it wouldn’t seem out of place to see the new line hanging in a retail chain like Pacific Sunwear or Journey’s in Akron’s Chapel Hill Mall. Currently, the clothing is sold on the company website, HYPERLINK “”

Fresh By Fortune is a different kind of company with a fresh take on promotion.

“I played safety at Kent for three years,” Taylor said. “I developed some relationships with guys that went on to the NFL like Chris (Beanie) Wells from Ohio State and James Harrison from Kent,” he said. “We stay in contact, and I always have clothes on hand for promotional stuff.”

“We were up on stage at the Wiz [Khalifa] concert last month,” said Meeker, co-founder and company treasurer. “We’re really into networking.”

The company decided early on to try and ally themselves with musical acts and professional athletes, an uncommon business strategy at such an early stage of growth but one the founders claim is the key to success in their ever-evolving market.

“It’s all about exposure for us,” Willie Dies said. “Anyone who wants to roll with us, we’re interested.”

Akron based rapper B Rich jumped at the opportunity to rock Fresh By Fortune gear.

“I like the local aspect, you know, helping other people from Akron do their thing. When everybody works together things just run smoother,” said the sophomore education major at the University of Akron, who just dropped his debut mix tape, “Higher Learning,” last month. The cover of the mix tape is a drawing of B Rich wearing a black FBF T-shirt.

Wherever their brand associations take them, the founders of FBF already have something that many businesses struggle with: a very clear image of what their brand should represent.

“We really want anybody to be able to wear our clothes from middle school kids to people in their 40s, 50s and 60s,” Willie Dies said. “You don’t have to worry about weed leaves being all over the designs or guns or anything like that.”

To avoid falling into the same disrepair as many college-formed entrepreneurships, the guys at FBF will try anything and everything. In addition to the winter line that introduces new shirts, jackets and beanies — essential for Ohio‘s notoriously awful winters — the company is working on other ideas to help push their success to the next level.

“The width of our line is expanding to include women’s wear and eventually button-ups, sweaters, jackets, ties — everything,” Willie Dies said. “There’s no limit to what we are trying to do.”

“I think we need more of an online presence,” Meeker said. “Maybe make the website blog a day-to-day.”

“Like Wiz?” Willie Dies asked. Another clear indicator of the FBF business strategy — trying to model their company after a musician’s career instead of similar business models in their market.

Meeker smiled and shook his head. “People want to know what Wiz is doing on the day-to-day,” he said. “They really don’t care what I’m doing. Yet.”

Contact Ryan Young at [email protected].