Story by KAYLA LIEN
It is 5:45 a.m. and Timothy Horton Jr. has just started his day. He wakes up his daughters, 2 and 4, and gets them ready for school. After dropping the 4-year-old off, he then heads back home, toddler in tow, and starts to create.
A Chicago native and University of Utah alumnus, this father of two is the CEO and founder of Koda’Fe, a luxury streetwear brand based in Salt Lake City.
Horton came up with the name Koda’Fe back in 2009, but didn’t really start putting his ideas down on paper until 2016, when he legalized it as a limited liability company (LLC). Koda’Fe is actually an acronym for “Keeping Our Dreams Alive For Eternity,” and with “fe” being the Latin word for “faith.” Horton notes that “a lot of positive energy went into creating this name.”
This idea of positivity and growth is the base of Koda’Fe. It’s all about “bringing everyone together,” Horton said over Zoom. “Koda’Fe is a brand for every culture. … Koda’Fe will be focused on uniting everybody and ending racism in general. … I say it every time, Koda’Fe is bigger than a fashion brand and I stand on that.”
Koda’Fe boasts a substantial Instagram following, with big names such as Rayjon Tucker of the Philadelphia 76ers and Derrick Rose of the New York Knicks being seen wearing the brand’s clothing.
However, the support hasn’t always been there.
Growing up, Horton said his mom “didn’t really understand.” Having been in and out of fashion since he was eighteen, Horton always knew what he wanted. His mom, however, was strict about having a stable job that paid well. He has since earned a degree in economics. While certainly useful in the long run, Horton repeatedly pushes the concept of listening to “nobody but yourself.”
Koda’Fe is part of a growing number of Black-owned businesses in Salt Lake City. Minorities make up 22.3% of Utah’s population, yet a little under 7% of Utah startups are minority-owned. While that statistic looks bleak, as of 2013, three areas in Utah (Ogden-Clearfield, Salt Lake City, and Provo-Orem) experienced a growth of at least 40% in minority-owned businesses.
Across the city, Tariq Staton puts in a nine-hour work day before going into his garage to get started on orders. Staton, the founder and co-owner of Utah-based clothing brand Edify Collective, juggles a full-time job to support his family on top of running a company that isn’t yet profitable.
“We haven’t taken any money out of the company. Everything that we make is either donated or put back into marketing or apparel or new designs and things like that,” Staton said in a Zoom interview. “Our goal is to just put out good product and put money back into the community and things we believe in.”
Edify Collective donates 15% of its profits back to the community through providing youth therapy sessions and supporting nonviolent movements fighting social inequality. Incorporating this message of positivity and unity was something the brand had wanted to do from the beginning.
Within the first trial week, the company raised $1,000 for the NAACP. Six months after that, Edify Collective donated over $2,000 to the Utah Black Chamber.
Moving his toddler out of view of the screen, Staton said, “When I was a minority youth, it was hard for me to express anything I was going through at that time to either my family or my friends. … Just speaking for the Black community, I know that it’s taken as a sign of weakness if you talk about … struggling with depression or talking about suicide and things like that … they’re shown as weak. So a lot of people don’t talk about it, but we want to bring that forward and say that it is OK.”
Edify Collective got its start in June 2020 after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were thrust into the limelight, having been killed by police. Staton’s wife wanted to do a photoshoot wearing shirts that were meaningful, with graphics depicting themes of unity and togetherness. After that initial photoshoot, Staton said, “We got a lot of people asking, you know, like where do we get the shirts and where can they get them.” So, the Statons turned it into a business. Since then, Edify Collective has put out numerous T-shirts and hoodies, as well as beanies, the latter with a little help from a company called Embrogo.
It’s a snowy evening in Salt Lake City and Quinnel Dixon has logged onto Zoom from his phone. “Can you hear me? My son busted my phone,” he says. Dixon sports a dark blue cap with the words “EMBROGO BRAND” stitched in bold lettering.
Quinell and Adrienne Dixon are the owners of Embrogo, a business founded in 2017 that curates “personal embroidery on the go.” Embrogo boasts small batches of personalized baseball caps, beanies, tees, patches, and even shoe tongues. It was an idea for a “side hustle,” Quinell said, not intending to be much of anything. However, the Dixons realized there was a market for this type of embroidery, whether it be for a small business or an individual wanting items for themselves.
Adrienne is the one sitting behind the embroidery machine, while Quinell is out in the community promoting the business. Their company saw a really positive impact once the Black Lives Matter movement took the spotlight, both in sales and customer support.
“People wanted to speak about what was going on, right, and they put it on their apparel,” Quinell says. “Another thing that happened, too, is people started to realize that, hey, we may not be able to do things right now when it comes to police brutality, when it comes to unfairness and injustice. But what we can do is support the people who are still around, who are people of color.”
The community has really embraced Embrogo, says Quinell, who adds, “We’re also glad that people are starting to really realize that small Black businesses is very far and few in between.”
Buying from small businesses has become a trend since the pandemic hit, one with gratifying results for many company owners.
Within the United States, there has been a tangible shift toward supporting local businesses, especially those owned by people of color and women. The U.S. Small Business Administration reports in 2020, the number of small businesses in the U.S. reached 31.7 million, which is 99.9% of all U.S. businesses. However minority-owned businesses make up only 18% of that, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
Supporting small businesses is essential, Quinell says. “You put the money back into your own economy and your ecosystem thrives. Not necessarily with revenue, but thrive in areas of being able to take care of their families. … Small business is bigger than just another ticket or another dollar or another revenue. [The owners] support their families on it.”