In 2017, Darius Northern began making shirts in his bedroom to wear to class. Now, in 2020, he’s quit his part-time job with the National Guard, graduated from Oregon State University and works full-time on his self-made brand, People of Colour clothing.
On a typical day, Northern wakes up in his Corvallis home before heading downstairs to his POC workspace in the basement—the brand got too big for his bedroom—to create products and fulfill orders. He makes runs to the post office. If he’s not pushing product, he’s working on the brand in other ways: updating his website, curating new content or editing his original podcast, “Colour Reimagined,” which hosts guests and explores topics relevant to the POC community.
The Barometer spoke with Northern in November 2018. Since then, Northern said his brand has grown tremendously. He’s recruited a multimedia team, developed new designs, presented at schools and sold merchandise across the country and internationally.
In November 2019, Northern was invited to speak at a conference at Willamette University and presented POC using slides created during his time in the OSU Launch Academy. When he tabled after his presentation, his merchandise sold out in 15 minutes.
“It was crazy. That was the most money I’ve ever made in 15 minutes in my life,” Northern said. “If I can get in front of people and convey the message of the brand, what it means to me, and what it can mean for you, it’s a wrap.”
Over the summer, Northern also sold merchandise at Last Thursday, a street festival in the Alberta neighborhood of Portland. More recently, he received a contract proposal to speak at Gonzaga University in April.
Northern expanded his product line over the past year, but his brand’s overall mission has remained the same: to create awareness, generate conversation and provide opportunities for people to examine their conscious behavior regarding race and ethnicity. More recently, through conversations with customers, Northern has added an additional phrase to his mission and his garments: confidence, community and culture.
“In this type of community—especially as an African-American male who doesn’t play sports—it’s like the Wild Wild West out here. You’re alone,” Northern said about his time at OSU. “Even sitting here in the Memorial Union, seeing people pass by, I have yet to see one African-American student. When I wear this [POC] shirt, I feel empowered. I have a different swag, a different energy. My head is held high. It’s that community, culture and confidence element that my brand has.”
Randy Sarun, a fourth-year first-generation college student and model for POC clothing, said he found comfort as a member of the POC community at OSU. Sarun is one of the 40 OSU students who have been involved in Northern’s brand in some capacity.
“I’ve always felt and been recognized as a minority, and through People of Colour I feel much more comfortable as I know we have such a diverse group of students who can understand what it’s like to feel that way,” Sarun said via email.
Northern officially launched the POC website in August 2019, which includes a shop, the “Colour Reimagined” podcast, a photo gallery and short passages written by members of the POC community.
“I called on people who I know write, people who are dealing with the issues currently, to contribute to the website and make it more of a reader’s experience. That way everything has context, everything has a story, everything can be explained,” Northern said.
Sienna Kaske, a third-year student at OSU, contributed a written piece for Northern’s website, paired with his “Immigration is Beautiful” design. Kaske said she believes POC is important since it aids in the effort to unify people of color.
“I think it might make people feel seen in a space that works really hard at pushing folks to the margins,” Kaske said via email. “OSU and Oregon, in general, has a passive-aggressive way of confronting racism and POC clothing forces people of all ethnicities, especially those with privilege, to essentially take a step back and think about something that might make you uncomfortable and force you to re-evaluate yourself.”
Northern’s recently assembled multimedia team consists of photographer Yvette Chau, videographer Lorenzo Lowe, graphic designer Angel McNabb-Lyons and creative director Paige Phillips. Yet, in terms of production and running POC, Northern still does it himself.
“It’s definitely a challenge, having to keep up with running the brand. I’m the marketing department, I’m the human resource department, I’m the incoming department, I’m the outgoing department, I’m the spokesman, I’m PR, I’m everything,” Northern said. “That part gets a little stressful, but I absolutely love it.”
Outside of the launch of his website, Northern said his biggest accomplishment was the 2019 spring DAMChic Fashion Show on the OSU campus.
“The response from the OSU community was absolutely tremendous,” Northern said. “There’s very few times in my life where I’ve been nervous to speak in front of people, and that’s probably a time where I was. I turned a corner and saw so many people in the MU plaza, and seeing all the POC shirts and people representing the energy of the brand—it was crazy.”
Looking forward, Northern hopes to become a vendor at more markets in the Portland area, and wants to continue to speak at schools and universities. He’s constantly developing ideas for new products, and hopes to eventually create a magazine or lookbook for the brand, along with a line of children’s books.
Despite his success over the past year, Northern said one of the biggest lessons he’s learned is patience. His growth has been incremental, and not always as quick as he wants it to be, but he’s determined to continue to build the brand.
“I want to be in a different place next year,” Northern said. “I have confidence I will be. I just gotta stay consistent, persistent—just keep doing what I’m doing.”