When 30-year old Xavier Winston launched Kencade Apparel in 2011, he was trying to channel some of his creative energy into something that could benefit Binghampton, the neighborhood where he was born and raised.
Originally intent on playing for the NBA, Winston changed focus when he became interested in sneakers as a junior in high school and started designing clothes to match his shoes.
Inspired by people like Tinker Hatfield, an architect turned shoe designer for Nike, Winston started to draw more designs. He has hopes to become a household name like Polo designer Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld, creative director for Chanel.
“Everyone wears Polo, whether you’re a CEO in a corner office or a drug dealer on the corner; everyone wears it. I want to be a brand that everyone can relate to,” he said. “I want to have longevity.”
In 2007, one of Winston’s brothers approached him about starting a company and asked him if he wanted to manage a clothing line. Though his brother’s idea never came to fruition, Winston decided to keep pushing and started thinking of a business name to copyright.
“Kencade is my brother’s middle name. I instantly fell in love with it. I went to get it copyrighted and it wasn’t taken. I knew it would look good on the t-shirt and any other designs I might decide to do in the future. Once it was copyrighted, it was easy to come up with a logo and I just ran with it from there,” he said.
The logo for the brand is an elaborate “K” with the words “king of all suits” circling the lower half of the letter.
Xavier Winston uses his t-shirt business, Kencade Apparel, to support youth basketball in Binghampton. (Brandon Dahlberg)
“Every few years there’s a new word that describes your ensemble—swag, fly, fresh. No matter what the new term is, my goal is longevity and generational recognition. We’re the king of all of it,” he said.
Winston keeps his t-shirt designs simple. It's a solid color shirt with the Kencade logo, and sells them for $10 to $20 each. He has a loyal customer base of about 30 people who are primarily Binghampton residents. Winston estimates that he has sold about 300 shirts since launching officially in 2011.
When Winston’s brother, 28-year-old Steven Terrell and basketball coach at Lester Prep, started the Desmond Merriweather Classic last year, Winston decided to sponsor shirts for the participating girls’ and boys’ basketball teams. This year, he gave away about 120 t-shirts emblazoned with the Kencade “K”.
“Desmond Merriweather was a pioneer for the community. He chased a big dream and it didn’t work out for him, but he came back as a mentor to give back to the community,” Winston said. “His goal was to give kids guidance.”
Merriweather coached at Lester Middle School and East High School before he passed in February 2015. Terrell started coaching at Lester when Merriweather passed and started the classic to honor him.
Winston said the game brings the community together for a fun, safe event. Terrell said his brother is an inspiration to him and the kids in the community.
“A lot of people have a lot of talent in our neighborhood and they’re not doing anything now. You see them in the park or walking down the street. So when they see people like Xavier, it motivates them. They can make it; they can do something better with their lives,” Terrell said.
Terrell said Winston’s business shows kids they don’t have to settle for working for someone else. He said kids seem content with graduating and getting a job, any job.
Xavier Franklin, founder of Kencade Apparel, shows off one of his designs at the Lester Community Center. (Brandon Dahlberg)
“Kencade shows you can build your own brand, create something and be an entrepreneur,” he said.
Growing up in Binghampton, Winston said it seemed that everyone thought the only way to be successful in the neighborhood was to "get out" through a career in sports or music.
“Binghampton is a very unique neighborhood,” he said. “Binghampton fathered me. It showed me everything I wanted to be and everything I didn’t want to be. Every time I tell people what I’m doing, they try to tell me to relocate. I want to make it in Memphis. If I can make it in Memphis, I can take a backpack full of Kencade shirts and sell them anywhere.”
Though he loves his city, Winston said it’s challenging to be an entrepreneur. He said the toughest part of the job is getting his name and brand in local publications.
Memphis, he said, doesn’t seem to support their own like in Atlanta or larger cities.
“People come up and they leave. The goal is to make it out and then they don’t come back,” he said. “I feel a lack of support from publications, locals, and even some friends. Until we start supporting each other, we can’t come together as a city and move forward.”
Still, Winston said he feels he’s making an impact on the Binghampton community.
“When I go to the community center, the kids come around me saying, I want a shirt, I want a shirt,” he said. “When you grow up in the hood, there are things you don’t even think about. Kids don’t see things outside of their neighborhood. No one ever told us we can do anything.”
“Everyone thought they would make it on selling drugs, rapping, or sports. I want to change that. I want kids to be able to look at me and say, I can do this. I can be a fashion designer. There are other ways to make it.”