Fashion entrepreneur Johnnie Lovett on launching a brand in college and how NFTE helped him
Growing up in Roseland on Chicago’s South Side, Johnnie Lovett knew he wanted to start a clothing brand but didn’t know how to get there. In his sophomore year at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, Lovett and a friend took a business class taught by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. He wrote a business plan that won first place in a city-wide competition and went on to graduate from Illinois State University in 2011. In 2010 he started a fashion business, Fresh Connection Brand.
On March 13 Lovett emceed NFTE’s Elevating Entrepreneurship event at the Museum of Contemporary Art, sharing a stage with Chicago business titans Ken Griffin and Larry Levy. See our pictures from the event here.
Grid: Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur when you took the class?
JL: That was before I knew what an entrepreneur was. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but was interested in starting my own business. NFTE provided the background and the realization that it’s tangible, it’s something that can actually come to life.
I placed second [at the NFTE National Business Plan Competition in 2007] for a business called Stay Fresh online. It was an urban fashion marketing company. That, in turn, became Fresh Connection Brand, which is an urban apparel brand. We were learning about how to market apparel to people like ourselves.
Grid: What’s the value of entrepreneurship to a kid from a bad neighborhood?
JL: Entrepreneurship challenges you to take your interests and make them valuable to other people. Everyone has an imagination. Everyone has that thought in the back of their head of something that they want to do. A lot of times it’s not financially driven. It’s just something that we’re interested in and passionate about. Entrepreneurship allows you to take something so small, something so minute and bring that to a platform where people are buying into the things that you create.
Grid: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned?
JL: Not being afraid to fail. With entrepreneurship, failure is inevitable. But it’s not the [end]. You’ll face these obstacles; you’ll come against things that you think you can’t overcome. You can. There are ways around it. The NFTE program puts you in a mindset that obstacles become opportunities. If [there’s] something that you failed at, you’re that much more able to accomplish it the next time because you’ve been there before. That’s what entrepreneurship is — solving problems.
Grid: What’s your dream?
JL: To run one of the biggest streetwear brands in the nation. Be able to create pieces that resonate with different audiences. And that people can really love.
Photo by Sara Mays