The African American Clothing Alliance is the clothing line you may not know by name, but you know by the look. During the 1990s, The AACA clothing provided a positive outlook by promoting HBCUs and pro-blackness. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a heavy hitter sporting the Black-Owned line. From The Notorious B.I.G. To Queen Latifah – even Russell Simmons was seen sporting the line.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of AACA, and the company is pushing for a re-launch so that we can cop these pro-black heirlooms and pass them down for generations to come. We sat down with creator Chris Latimer, to discuss the Kickstarter campaign, the culture influence AACA Clothing has had and more.
Blame Ebro: In 1991, just steps away from Howard University AACA was founded. What was the defining moment that sparked the creation of AACA?
Chris Latimer: “African American College Alliance Clothing was birthed because of the lack of inclusion of Historical Black Colleges and Universities in the landscape of the early 90’s Sportswear Explosion. Hip Hop Culture was making brands like Majestic, Logo 7 and Starter rich by relentlessly wearing their products that featured schools like Duke, University of Miami and the North Carolina Tarheels. The rich tradition of HBCUs wasn’t even in the mix and most of this product was worn in the Inner City. So in one of DC’s Hottest Sneaker Stores on Georgia Ave, down the block from Howard University, a few students made some noise about the lack of inclusion and AACA was born on May 14, 1991.”
Blame Ebro: In a time where being Black was the thing to be (with Spike Lee, “A Different World,” Native Tongues and the golden age of hip-hop,) did you expect for AACA to become so influential in urban pop culture?
Chris Latimer: “To be completely honest, I was just excited about the quality of the product, the color-ways hooking up with the hot kicks and the fact that I was in a position to change the narrative while creating excitement around HBCUs. It wasn’t a timing thing with me when I started working for AACA, it was a moment of destiny. I’m not trying to be corny, but it was love at first sight. I knew I was the man to blow this brand out of the water and Hip Hop was the vehicle to make it happen. What was happening in the game at the time was the added bonus.”
BE: AACA is mostly known for creating a fresh clothing line promoting HBCUs. With 107 HBCUs nationwide, how can you please everybody? And can I put in an early bid for a couple of Johnson C. Smith University pieces [laughs]?
CL: “Oh, now you want my marketing plan? NOPE! [laughs] You’re right, you can’t please everyone and have every college available at one time, that would be a production nightmare for a Start-up. We will definitely get to all the schools, but in a very strategical way. I went to Howard myself and I Love my school’s rich heritage, but I’m not a favoritism guy, I want all the HBCUs to shine. When it comes to AACA, my Love for Howard is the same as it is for Paul Quinn College in Dallas. That’s why I said I was built for this because I want every HBCU to shine and I’ll find a way for it to happen on both the production side and promotion side.”
As far as Johnson C. Smith, what you know about the school the Harlem Streetball Legend, Earl “The Goat” Manigault, went to?”
BE: I went to JCSU!
CL: “Hmmmmmmm I figured!”
BE: [Laughs] AACA was everywhere overnight. From Russell Simmons, to SWV to The Notorious B.I.G. What was your most memorable moment with AACA?
CL: “There’s a million of those so I can’t just say one, but here’s a few:
Dressing Biggie at Jack the Rapper in Atlanta in 92, he was the first cat wearing it at the now defunct music conference the weekend Puff launched Bad Boy to the industry. He was giving me so much drama because I didn’t have his size and then – BAM. I hit him in ATL with a Morehouse joint, it was a magical moment. Getting a call from LL the day before he performed at Clinton’s Inauguration telling me he was about to change my life and career path. He wouldn’t tell me how, he just said look in the Papers the day after tomorrow. He killed it in that Black FAMU Hoodie as the first Rapper to ever perform at an inauguration. Dressing Snoop for his first photo shoot with my man Chi Modu. He took the infamous shot in front that 187 sign and the record label cropped it because they were concerned with connecting the college he was wearing, Virginia State, with his lyrical content. The ‘Baby, Baby, Baby’ video with TLC, they took AACA along for the ride when they became pop stars. R.I.P. to Left Eye she loved the product and rocked it in support of the schools. Having Martin embrace the brand and taking it with him on his rise to stardom from Def Comedy Jam to his Sold-Out Tours to his 1st sitcom, ‘Martin.’ Dressing Russell Simmons, my Idol and the king of Hip-Hop”
BE: When was the first time you saw AACA on TV?
CL: “Hmmmmmmm that was either Yo! MTV Raps or Def Comedy Jam. So, shout out to Ed Lover, Dr. Dre, Fab, the late, great Ted Demme, Jack Benson and Kenny Buford. They were all a big part of AACA’s launch nationally through Yo! MTV Raps. Also a special shout out to Bob Sumner, Martin Lawrence, Kid Capri, Russell Simmons and Stan Lathan for holding us down for our first appearances on HBO. HBO was like the Instagram of Television back then, that was a great way to debut as well.”
BE: With all the celebrities that wore the brand over the years, have any of them reached out to lend a helping hand?
CL: “Nope! Just playing, of course. I’m just personal with stuff like that, so I won’t name names. These people are my friends now, so most of the time they want their philanthropic moves to not be held under a light. If you do look around though you’ll see who is with us and who’s not just by their Twitter and Instagram posts. Actually, I’ll leave it to the readers. IF YOU DON’T SEE YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST POSTING ABOUT OUR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN OR FOLLOWING US @AACACLOTHING IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS ASK THEM WHY AREN’T THEY SUPPORTING BLACK COLLEGES?”
BE: 25 years later, how important is this reboot?
CL: “Sister you have no idea!!!! I want this brand to be a Hero to the community. I know that sounds weird, but what is the definition of a Hero?
A person, typically a man/woman, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
See, that’s what I want this brand to be, all of the above. I also want it to be a bridge builder to connect the Youth to the Elders with an HBCU being the common denominator. Whether that stems from a kid wearing it for style purposes on the D Train and an Elder sparking a conversation because the kid is wearing their Alma Mater or it influences a broader discussion at Compton High School because the students are wearing it by the hundreds forcing conversations on HBCUs’ in the school curriculum. We need AACA and hopefully I can get it out of this Telephone Booth aka Kickstarter Campaign so it can get to saving Black Minds.”
BE: What is something you want to say to fans of the brand that you haven’t been able to express during this campaign.
CL: “Support our Kickstarter Campaign Today we only have few days left to reach our goal so we can be everything we were in the early 90’s, but we need everyone that reads this interview to get involved. And advance purchasing a reward that best fits your budget or style, they vary from AACA logo’d Snapbacks, AACA logo’d T-shirts, AACA logo’d Hoodies and for the first time in 21 years we are selling full AACA Sweatsuits. Lastly, I’d like to say AACA is your brand, a brand of the people. We will be controversial when wronged, push education and the apparel version of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Hopefully, you hold us accountable at our every move and by doing it with us you’ll learn to do it with other brands that take from our community without giving back. Also remember we give on average a 10% royalty back to every school who’s product you purchase from us.”
BE: If anyone wanted to donate after the campaign is over is that possible?
CL: “Well, it’s really NOT a donation to our Kickstarter Campaign, its an advance purchase of our product which allows us to make more product. So the Backer pays for whatever they want through our campaign, we then manufacture the product and then we ship it to them. I just wanted everyone to be clear that we are asking you to support us through the purchase, not necessarily just donating money to the cause. When the Campaign is over we will hopefully be in full production, so we won’t be taking any further pledges after Monday, April 18th at 10:00am.”
You can become a backer to AACA Clothing’s Kickstarter until April 18 here. Check out some historic pics from the clothing line’s last 25 years below.