25 Jun 2015

    Toronto designer: "I'm Just A Regular Kid From Jane and Finch"

    Jason Blackwood, 27, a mentor-turned-entrepreneur from Toronto wants his clothing brand Grandslammer$ to act as a symbol inspiring people in his community to strive towards their dreams.

    It’s certainly helping Jason live out his own dreams, with high profile celebrities such as NBA player Anthony Bennett, CFL hall of famer Michael Pinball Clemons and rapper Fabolous sporting the brand.

    Jason, the youngest of three brothers, was raised by his single-mother in Toronto's Jane and Finch area. Jason's surroundings and experiences, including the death of his eldest brother when he was five has motivated him to escape constant negativity.

    Jason's older brother Chris founded a not-for-profit organization called H.N.I.C. (Helping Neighborhoods Implement Change) to help Jason and others in similar situations find direction in their lives through mentoring and entrepreneurship. His involvement in his brother's organization, time spent in two programs: CEE (Community Empowering Enterprises) and Gentleman's H.A.T.S (Having The Ability To Switch) combined with a business course at Dixon Hall inspired Jason to start his own business, with partner Janelle Marie Taylor. "Grandslammer$ is a lifestyle that represents the art of working hard. Whether you are achieving smaller or larger goals in life, the work ethic never changes," says Taylor. It is this shared vision of hard work and positivity that is at the core of the Grandslammer$ brand. We spoke to Jason about how it all began and where the clothing line is headed. 

    At what point in your life or in your schooling did you decide that fashion is what you wanted to go into?

    I didn't really get into fashion because of my school to tell you the truth. I just kind of had a sense for fashion and visualizing and seeing things on the Internet, in pictures and just kind of observing and being a media person. None of the schools taught me directly fashion. They taught me how to maintain a business, how to network.

    Are there any specific brands or designers that inspired you to consider designing clothing yourself?

    Roots.  And I like Roots because everyone wears it, it's a Canadian brand. I like their edge, and I've always worked for the best or looked for the best and in my eyes from what I can observe that's Roots. I don't like to be too flashy but I also like Louis Vuitton; I like the name brands. I like the respect they get. Their stuff is expensive but they make people want to buy their stuff because of the respect. So I was amazed by it because it was like a lifestyle and they had me buying into it. So if they can get people to buy into something they like, with that knowledge I was like "that's the energy I want to give to people."

    Where did you get the name Grandslammer$, what's the significance?

    Grandslammer$ is a symbol: it symbolizes being consistent, staying positive and sacrificing. Basically every day you’ve got to work to see progress. And sacrificing means sometimes you don't want to work, or you don't like what you're doing but you have to stay consistent because that's the bread and butter. So I found a way to symbolize progress and success in a way society doesn't get to see in every individual in terms of what they're doing. So with this brand it symbolizes all the success, the consistency and positive energy you put out. That's what we stand for. And even deeper, if you save money, if you spend money, if you have money you're a Grandslammer. It doesn't matter how much money you have, it's about the mindset and the energy.

    If you have goals and you aim towards it, you sacrifice every day. If you have a new challenge you have to be determined, you have to be consistent. And some people don't see the consistency, they think that it comes easy, but that's what we're trying to do with Grandslammer$. We're trying to get some commercials out so people can see the hard work behind the closed doors. No one becomes successful overnight, you have to have a plan and see it grow. So at Grandslammer$ this is what we do; we motivate you every day. We just came out with a new edition of "It's My Time" as in it's my time to take the lead, it's my time to shine. It's my time to give back. It's my time to make others better. I mean, I've been working all winter, now it's summer it's my time to shine and enjoy life. It's all about motivating because we don't seem to have much in this society. We’ve got to keep it positive.

    You have a clear vision for Grandslammer$, where do you see that vision taking you?

    Oh man, I see this vision going everywhere, the clothing line is just to let people know about it. We want to take this vision into the school system and teach people about the basic needs of life. We need a house, we need shelter, we need clothing, and we need food. But we want cars, we want the Jordan's. I want to teach people about the importance of being consistent and not just talking about what they want but visualizing it, making direct contact. I see in the future we're in stores and online and building pyramids for people. I want to create jobs for people so they can provide themselves and their families.

    It's interesting that you brought up the importance of visualization, growth and the importance of community building because I know that earlier in your life you were a part of the organizations CEE (Community Empowering Enterprise) and the HNIC (Helping Neighborhoods Implement Change through mentoring). How did being a part of those programs influence the way you established Grandslammer$ and the ideology around it?

    It just made me realize there's opportunities around me and it's not just the neighborhood; there's more to life. When I was a part of the program they used to tell us to meet them downtown. They would give us the bus fare but you had to make your own way down. They would give us a taste of reality because you have to go out there and network and do what you need to do to get things done. They taught me the importance of being consistent and being on-time, if you were ever late you had to help run programs for kids outside of Jane and Finch Mall; how to sell lemon juice, how to save money and get money into their hands. And I saw the effect it had on them in their faces and I thought this is what we need to be doing.

    And how long were you involved in those programs?

    Two years basically. It was 18 months, three 6 month programs. 

    How important do you think it is for a community to have access to these kind of programs?

    I feel it's very important, especially with people in the neighborhood, we know what the need is but we don't have the leaders, no one is taking responsibility. More funding should go towards small entrepreneurs who graduate from those programs so we can hire people and be mentors to those people who are going through those programs so they can see people in their own neighborhood doing something. The way neighborhoods work and the way society works is two different things. So if you can have that connection, it would work and life would be much better.

    If you could design an ideal program what would you do differently and how could you improve things?

    Well for one we would teach them about numbers. How much and how important a dollar is because it’s a principle of life. Just that first and foremost. And then we'd go to tackling what people want because some people in the program they say they want this then at the end of the program they don't continue what they're doing. Just getting people on board and getting people who can mentor them in that field, that's doing something similar to their interests and shares the same history. It's helpful because they speak the same language and they can believe you, more of a brother than a white person or anyone really because they have been through the struggle.

    I would set up the program so bus fare is covered. We'd have food coupons, most of these programs are still cooking for us like we're kids, kids don't want no mac n' cheese, they want McDonalds. So we should be connecting with these big organizations asking if we can get some coupons. I know the solution, my team knows the solution. The more people that know the vision let's connect it and make the black money circulate so we can make other lives better. We have to take care of our own backyard before we take care of anybody else. My future is part of my progress, I want to give back and I want to give funding because I know what it takes to start up a business, so if I can give 10 per cent back to inside communities, that could help.

    What do you want people to take away from your brand?

    I want other people to dream. I want the whole world to dream but I especially want the black community to dream. Let's start a brand. This isn't no gang stuff; it’s a lifestyle. This is a sellable product. We have people, diverse people buying our product. People that put in their money because nothing's too expensive. Lots of things are happening and that's all I can say about it. I want to do this like Primerica do where you can build your own pyramid. You should be able to offer brands wholesale prices and build connections to get more followers on Instagram. We want a commercial to build awareness so people who want to join the brand can join the brand. It makes life easier, it's all about how much money do you want to make? Take it door to door if you have to. Take it to the Sunday flea market; I did. I'm just doing the blueprint for others to let them know success is closer to you than you know it. At first there weren't many believers of the brand but as things have gone along, more and more believers have come and I'm blessed for that.

    What are some of the things you've had to sacrifice to get to where you are now?

    I've had to sacrifice lots of things. I used to play basketball, I had to sacrifice that. I was at a party the other day with Cory Joseph (San Antonio Spurs) and we were talking about the good old days how we used to play and we were the best players. I knew I had to become something positive. I felt that I was good enough to be in the NBA but it didn't go that way, so I had to stay positive and keep it moving. The energy is real from that and I thank God for that. And the second thing a couple of years ago I started a construction business with my dad and I was the CEO because my dad knows I'm good with math; I like numbers. I used my own money to buy a van but after a while things weren't going well the business ended up failing and I lost money. Then I was like "Okay. The reason I lost money is because I didn't have control so I needed to do something new that I could have control of if something goes wrong. I'm a ball player, so I point guard everything, I like to make sure everything is in order.

    Can you tell me about another time that you've needed positive energy in your life and where did you get it from?

    Just coming from the area I come from, Jane and Finch, I've had lots of old friends getting into trouble, incidents where I almost got shot, lots of incidents, so I'm happy to be here and be able to express my vision in a positive way. I took all that negative energy and used it in a positive way. I didn't engage in it, I separated myself and I put this out. Also, life; getting raised by my single-mom, knowing goals that I wanted to achieve and I had to have goals that were achievable and realistic. Lots of thinking went into this so I know I had to do this. If I had a job right now I couldn't really pursue my goal, if I don’t put my whole passion into this there's no one else who'd going to do it. I believe this is something, a huge sacrifice because dedicating yourself to something that's not guaranteed is a big deal nowadays because bills need to be paid, so it's a big sacrifice. And beating the odds; jut a regular black kid from Jane and Finch… who would've known.

    Sometimes on the TTC people will ask "what brand is this" or not even ask just say "this is the dopest design I've ever seen" and some of them would never guess it's made by a black guy. Sometimes you’ve got to look deeper and don’t judge a book by its cover. I may be in a jogging suit, I may have braids but I have respect and I have knowledge. If you ask a question I have an answer. I'm about less speaking more action. That's how I get respect, by earning it.

    What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs and people looking to start their own businesses?

    You're going to have to be consistent, stay positive, work hard. You're going to lose a lot of you friends but if you're determined, passionate and are seeing progress, then continue. Less talk, more action. If not, try something else, try something new. Trying shouldn't be a word, do it or do something else. Until you find the right pieces to the puzzle. It's tough love, there aren't going to be any handouts, you're going to have to earn your respect. I had like-minded people to help me get to where I am but it still wasn't easy. But I had that vision and now I have believers. And once you put something out there it's no longer about you, it's about everybody because people invest their time and money into your business so it's not just about you. You may be mad or sad, going through things at home, with your girlfriend, boyfriend, but you have to put that aside and wear your different hats.

    You said that you've experienced a lot of growth in the last year and some notable people have been seen wearing clothes from Grandslammer$, where would you like to see things go next?

    I want to see it everywhere. I want Jay-Z to be wearing it, I want everybody to be wearing it and to know about it. Like the whole world knows about Nike, we want the whole world to know what we're about.

    You can follow Jason and Grandslammer$ on Instagram at @grandslammers and visit their website to order some of their gear.

    Read 3971 times Last modified on Thursday, 03 September 2020 22:45
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    Marcus Medford

    Marcus Medford, is a freelance journalist, editor and poet born and raised in Toronto. He's worked as a marketing strategist, a photographer's assistant, and a content writer. He currently writes a regular column for New Canadian Media. Marcus, who goes by the stage name Mars The Poet, is also a two-time TEDx performer and the author of the poetry collection, Book of Mars. 
    Twitter: @marcus_roi. 
    Instagram: @MarsThePoet



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