Made in America: AHUS
To kick-off our “Made in America” series, where we champion our craftsmanship and heritage by spotlighting brands and companies that are “Made in the USA”, we spoke with Tareq G. Brown, one of the co-founders behind lifestyle brand, America Hates US.
AHUS WAS NOT INTENDED TO MAKE A PASSERBY FEEL COMFORTABLE.
You’ve been warned. With collections such as “White Lies Matter” and “US of Hate,” and a “Dick-Tators” t-shirt emblazoned with the text: "Donald & Aldof & Joseph & Talat & Mao", lifestyle brand America Hates US , is clearly not afraid of ruffling a few feathers. In fact, they hope that their apparel encourages dialogue about “needs that ought to be addressed.” Tareq G. Brown, co-founder of AHUS with Brandon R. Rivera, is quick to clarify that while they may be provocative in their design that doesn’t mean the brand is providing “a podium for hate or discrimination.”
“I started AHUS because I wanted to create a lifestyle brand that communicated socially and politically conscious messages through clothing. I wanted the pieces also to have the flexibility to be worn at a political march as well as at brunch on Sunday,” says Brown, adding that since its inception in 2016 – a direct result of the presidential election that divided a nation into those who wore slogan hats and those who did not – the brand has raised over $10,000.
Raising awareness and funds for those less fortunate is at the heart of AHUS. “Giving back was an important principle for the brand,” says Brown, noting that 20% of all purchases are donated to nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault. AHUS has also donated their time and energy to helping others across America and abroad. In the past year alone, they have collected supplies for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, purchased computer tablets for primary students in Barbuda that lost theirs after the hurricane, and, last month, took over 160 middle school black and brown girls to see "A Wrinkle in Time" as part of their Representation Matters initiative.
AHUS were, once again, quick to lend their support to those in need last summer. Amidst the tsunami of sexual assault allegations they created a "Believe Women" line of apparel, a direct response to the backlash against women who decided to go public with their experiences. Like their other collections, the design is simple but effective. Not framed as a question but rather a statement, passersby are forced to confront an injustice many assaulted women must face by society, faceless or otherwise. Having interned at several human trafficking and DV clinics while in law school, Brown says he was all-too familiar with the way in which these women are treated by society: “Women, too often, are not believed when they report crimes of assault and/or domestic violence or, in the alternative, are judged harshly for reporting ‘too soon’ or ‘taking too long’ to report.”
Since their 2016 launch, AHUS has gone from strength to strength. Whether they're selling apparel at pop-ups or donating resources to worthwhile causes and organizations, it’s clear that this is a brand intent on making a difference. With future plans that include starting a forum/panel discussion on entrepreneurship and women of color in various industries, AHUS should be on your radar. Not convinced? You will be.
Brown tells Us about getting his start in the industry, the motto he lives by, and what he and his team hope to achieve next.
Us of America: How many people are on the AHUS team? Where are you based?
Tareq G. Brown: Currently, there are three members of AHUS: Busy (@busymgmt), Danielle Achong (@skyhi25) and I. The brand is based in Brooklyn in a spare bedroom in my apartment. All of our goods are sold online at americahates.us and we occasionally have pop-up shops several times a year.
Have you always wanted to start your own brand/company? Did you always have an interest in fashion?
Not really. I did, however, dabble in a failed project back in 2005 with a couple of friends. The line was called “Classy Dude”. We were trying to design pieces for the everyday gentleman and add a street aesthetic to it. That project, fortunately, never got off the ground due to creative differences I had with that team at the time.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting out?
The biggest challenge we faced starting out (and still face today) was having patience. Patience that a design will connect with the audience, patience that a celebrity will wear the design they promised they would, patience that a publication will print the Q&A we had with them, etc.
Our patience is a lot better now, thankfully. Now, in lieu of focusing on what hasn’t happened, we pay more attention to our accomplishments. Recognizing how far we’ve come is imperative because it allows us to enjoy the moment in the moment. Before we were just checking tasks off the list and moving on to newer tasks. That was the wrong approach and now we try our best to enjoy the flowers while they’re still fresh.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far?
The biggest lesson we learned so far was how to find and focus on our niche audience. At the beginning, we tried to appeal to everyone. That was a mistake that we luckily learned early.
The fact of the matter is not everyone is going to like what you do but that’s okay. We committed to our formula of making designs with the marginalized in mind and that’s all. Some people gravitated towards that while others didn’t. This dawned on us that it was more important to have return supporters than vie for new ones. Return supporters (or customers) will support most anything you do because they recognize the message and the cause but they will also keep you grounded. Contending for support from those that otherwise don’t recognize and agree with our mission has proven to be exhausting. It is futile to attempt to get anyone on board if they cannot, from the start, even agree that the sky is blue let alone that white privilege exists.
Greatest achievement so far?
Our greatest achievement so far has been hosting over 100 Black and Brown girls to their own private screening of Ava Duvernay’s film, “A Wrinkle in Time” as part of our Representation Matters initiative. The event was especially significant for us because of the various support received. Backing came from those that generally support us on social media and from complete strangers that were behind the agenda.
Thirteen days prior to the film’s March 9 release, I sent out a call to friends, family and supporters that follow us on social media (@americahatesus) and asked them if they’d like to get behind the project. The goal was set for $2000. We received funds immediately and by day five, we eclipsed over $1000. By the end, we had over $3000, added 50 more girls and bought each of them a copy of the book.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect so far? Any advice to those wishing to start their own brand/company?
The most rewarding aspect for us has been the support and encouragement we’ve received. There’s a “Hate” pin in Stuttgart, Germany somewhere, a black “Believe Women” tee in Querétaro, Mexico and a “White Lies Matter” cap in Revelstoke, a south eastern city in British Columbia. More important than that is having an inbox filled with people expressing how much they appreciate what we’re doing, requests on ways for them to pitch in and whether we’d like to do a pop-up shop in their city. That brings us the most gratification!
The advice I’d offer others wanting to start their own brand would be to figure out what you want to do then follow someone already doing it and ask them for advice on how they got started and what hiccups they encountered along the way. No sense rushing into something you don’t first prepare for. Mentorship is invaluable so it’s important to find one, even if you're getting it from afar.
Is there anyone you go to for advice when it comes to the business?
My partner, Busy. AHUS was fortunate enough to have a co-founder that’s had several other clothing brands and knew the inner workings of the business. Busy serves as an excellent resource as his connections permit us various goods and services that most start ups wouldn’t have access to. On top of having a friendship of over 27 years, he is an excellent mentor and the brand has benefited from his involvement.
Motto/quote you live by?
Who or what inspires you?
Lena Waithe has been a huge inspiration. Seeing her rocket over the last several years is a testament to her work ethic, of course, but also to the fact that she is comfortable being Lena. In an article with The Undefeated she said, “your art is stunted when you’re trying to pretend to be something you aren’t”. That sentiment lived with me because I’ve had my own moment where I was not happy.
Discontent is a buzzkill for great work or creativity. I had to be comfortable in my own skin first in order for me to thrive in other fields. Being comfortable in my own skin permits me to confidently represent my brand, speak eloquently about its purpose and zealously strive for goals that most would find daunting.
It’s also encouraging that Lena Waithe not only likes and wears AHUS’ pieces, she also told me that she’s proud of what we’re doing when I met her in January.
What makes America great?
Donald Trump (ha-ha).
Before offering an ounce of praise to America, I must assert that it is a fallacy to claim the country was once “great.” At least it wasn’t great for everyone. And still, today, it isn’t great for many. Nonetheless, the country does have some redeeming qualities and there are amazing folks out there pushing to make it better.
The greatest thing about America is our fundamental right to free speech; a freedom that we take for granted that many other countries don’t have. The First Amendment permits AHUS to use a tangible medium, such as a t-shirt, to discuss sexual assault awareness. Being somewhat free of censorship allows for the spreading of ideas and challenges us all to be creative.
To support AHUS, visit their website, buy something for that relative who voted for Trump, and choose a non-profit that “you have faith in” at checkout.