That last location proved to be immensely important. Not just because of how popular that mall used to be back in the day, but because it was the place where Dawaud would meet Kesney, who’s now the chief financial officer of Big Printing—as well as Dawaud’s partner in marriage.
Kesney came from a different background than Dawaud, who grew up on 86th Street and Birch Street in East Oakland. She’s from the East Bay suburb of Benicia. A Howard University grad who was working in Silicon Valley, her financial management expertise would prove to be key.
With her savviness, Big Pimpin’ Turf Clothes rebranded itself as Big Printing. It also grew from a single press in Dawaud’s grandmother’s house to multiple presses.
Dawaud and Kesney were married at the turn of the millennium, got a loft across the street from McClymonds High School in West Oakland in 2002, and in 2004 acquired an automatic press. So in 2005, they relocated to 900 Doolittle Drive in San Leandro.
Along with the acquisition of two embroidery machines, that move allowed the business to go from a 1,500-square-foot spot to a 2,500-square-foot location in the same area. Two years later they doubled in size to 5,000 square feet, still in San Leandro.
As the company grew, they honed the focus of their clientele: motorcycle clubs, churches and startup streetwear brands.
Social media, specifically Instagram and its paid ads, allowed the company to find customers from all around the country. “We found a lot more of ‘us,'” says Dawaud, in reference to his community of African American entrepreneurs.
“We were happy and grateful to be a three-press shop with some embroidery,” says Kesney. “But as we began to work toward our niche market of developing brands, we began to see this need for our community.” Kesney says the business was a magnet for young African American folks who “had great vision, cool ideas and just needed a little bit of help to bring it to life.”
Contractually, Big Printing can’t reveal the name of the giant Fortune 500 company that placed the huge Black Lives Matter order. But years of doing business has led Kesney to understanding the importance of this purchase order, and how it is a step toward finding a remedy to the economic divide that exists in America.
Talking with her about it brought up issues I was familiar with, like the disparity in wealth between Black and white households, as well as the U.S. unemployment rate, which is always worse for African Americans than just about any other demographic. But until I talked to Kesney, I didn’t know that so few Black-owned businesses actually have employees.
Citing the U.S. Census 2012 Survey of Business Owners, BlackDemographics.com reports that approximately 95% of African American businesses don’t have a staff, aside from the owner or partnership.
Couple that with the National Bureau of Economic Research’s analysis that during the early stages of COVID-19, “African-American businesses were hit especially hard, experiencing a 41 percent drop,” and you start to see how important it is for small, Black-owned businesses to be integrated into larger businesses’ supply chain.
Big Printing took some early licks this year when business slowed down in China, but otherwise they weren’t phased by COVID-19. If anything, the pandemic brought business to their door. “The business started to skyrocket,” says Dawaud, noting that they got a few people thanking them for simply being open.
But nothing was like the big order they received at the start of the summer.
“I don’t know anybody who’s done 100,000 shirts,” says Dawaud, proudly reflecting on the order his company fulfilled.
“We have a business,” says Kesney, in a grounding tone. “We work for the money that we earn. We do a damn good job for every client we go out and print. Just the chance to bid on this type of order is great for us, and well-deserved.”
After 25 years of steady growth, the giant order allowed Big Printing to increase their staff by nearly 20%, acquire new machinery and double their physical footprint, in just three weeks.
The beneficiaries of this investment will be the owners and employees, as well as the numerous members of the community the business serves, which is heavily African American.
Kesney and Dawaud understand that ripple effect. They also understand the waves of woes that Africans Americans face when it comes to inequalities, particularly economic inequality, in the United States.
To that, Dawaud says, “You can make a statement, or you can make a donation. But you really don’t have to go that far to make a difference. All you really have to do is go to your procurement department and ask them, ‘Are we doing any business with Black vendors?’ If not, then make a conscious effort to see about changing that.”
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