How former basketball player Lanny Smith built a $30M company to challenge Nike and Adidas

Abu Mubarik March 07, 2023
Lanny Smith. Photo: Actively Black/Insider

Lanny Smith is the founder of the sportswear company Actively Black which offers activewear and accessories for men, women, and children. The brand’s roots date back to 2009 when he sustained a knee injury that thwarted his NBA dream. The injury came just one month after he signed a contract with the Sacramento Kings. He, therefore, reinvented himself as an entrepreneur and decided to venture into the apparel industry.

In 2020, he launched Actively Black on the back of George Floyd’s death. At the time, multinational companies were promising to promote diversity and invest in the Black community but Smith was not enthused. According to him, brands like Nike and Adidas grew on the back of Black influence and consumer dollars, however, these brands were not doing enough for Black people.

Referencing the various endorsement deals with Black athletes, he told CNBC Make It, “a lot of these sports apparel brands have profited off of Black talent.

“[The companies] have profited off of the consumerism from the Black community. And I felt like they hadn’t adequately reinvested back into the Black community.”

Smith said this led him to start Actively Black. He also wanted to have a bite of the $17 billion sportswear industry that he believed Black culture helped to build. The 38-year-old former basketball player has grown Actively Brand into a multi-million dollar brand. In 2021, the brand was valued at $30 million, and in 2022, it brought in $5.6 million. What is more, the company reinvests 10% of its profit into supporting social justice, mental health and physical health in black communities.

His company recently donated to programs like the Dr Huey P. Newton Foundation, The Liberation Fund, Black Kids Code, Our Own and Families United. It collaborated with Disney on “Black Panther”-themed clothing and also made Nigeria’s official uniforms at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Recently, NBA star Stephen Curry was seen wearing an Actively Black hoodie during a press conference. What is more, former President Barack Obama also wore a watch the brand collaborated on, as reported by CNBC Make It.

With the launch of Actively Black, Smith is hoping to build a brand that will rival Nike and Adidas. Although the profit he makes is a drop in the ocean compared to the profit Nike and other big brands make, he is unfazed. According to him, all the big sportswear brands also started small.

With its goal to support Black athletes and Black creators, Actively Black recently inked a NIL deal with North Carolina women’s basketball player Deja Kelly. “At Actively Black, Black women are at the forefront of everything we do, so it was important that our first NIL athlete partnership was with a Black woman,” Smith said at the time. “Deja is an incredible talent with shared sensibilities rooted in empowering and reinvesting in Black communities.”

“As this brand grows, some of these athletes are going to grow up with the brand,” said Smith. “And then when it’s time for them to sign [endorsement deals at the pro level], we will at least have a seat at the table as an option for them.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 7, 2023


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