One of my oldest and most fashionable friends would always say “It’s not what you wear, it’s how you rock it.” I’ve agreed many times. However, sometimes…SOMETIMES, what you wear is the statement. That’s why I was intrigued when I learned about Pyerse Dandridge and his clothing line LexPyerse. Creating a stylish Pan-African-inspired shirt wasn’t his goal or a desire of his…his entrance into the fashion industry was out of necessity and need.
Pyerse was raised by his fashion designer mother who doubled as a seamstress. Learning to sew from her mother at the age of 5, by the time she had kids, she was creating everything from everyday clothing to suits for church on Sunday. Pyerse was engulfed in an atmosphere that he didn’t realize would be his career path four decades later. When he was younger and approached with the opportunity to learn to sew, Pyerse admitted his fear of needles and decided that a sewing machine was not his route. Nonetheless, in 2018, all of that changed.
Pyerse is in his forties and was finding it really difficult to get a decent job. He was living in Los Angeles and life was actually not bad. At the time he was a production assistant working on different web series and films as well as being a DoorDash delivery person. If you ask Pyerse, it was actually enough to maintain the bills, but he wanted more. And getting to that next level was more challenging than he perceived. It was time for Pyerse to figure out how to be an entrepreneur.
We had the chance to catch up with Pyerse about his clothing line, the messaging in his clothes, and how he looks to impact other cultures with a single word.
SUAVV: You started your clothing line 4 years ago. How did this happen?
Lex Pyerse: The mindset was “I gotta figure this job thing out”, you know? all these disabilities started kicking in and all that stuff. Congenital diseases, degenerating disc, and the doctor was saying, “You need to stop doing DoorDash because it’s hurting you.” So I’m like, okay, if I’m injured and hurt, it’s gonna be harder to find a job. Even though there are all these disability rights, it’s still hard to go in and get a job. So I said, “alright, I gotta figure this entrepreneurial thing out quickly.” And they, I was going to YouTube University and they were like, yeah, one of the easiest businesses to start is a t-shirt business. So I was like, all right, let me take a look at the t-shirt business. And I figure, you know, even if it bellies up, maybe there are some skills I could learn and take that to the next level. After playing around with some really bad designs, I went on fiver and they had this thing called word clusters and word clouds. I came up with the word Black and put it in Pan-African colors.
SUAVV: When you came up with the word Black to put on your shirts, how did you come up with the words that would become the word cluster?
Pyerse: I went online to do some research on what Black means to people? And I got to a point of frustration because I couldn’t find anything that clicked for me. Then, I figured I’d ask my friends what does black mean to them? And then I thought about it. And the thoughts in my head are very cruel, sometimes very straightforward. I thought, “You’ve been black for 41 years. If any other person had been in 10 plus years, in any industry, (let alone 40 plus years) they would be considered an expert. So isn’t fair to assume that you might be an expert on being Black.” So, I came up with like 20-30 words. The ones that popped out were compelling, adventurous, loyal, resilient, and grateful. And I’m like, wait a minute. That literally describes everybody I know.
I sat back and thought about a friend of mine who is afraid of heights, but she goes on a zipline in some jungle in South America. That’s pretty adventurous. My parents always travel, trying new things, cruises, boats, and ski jet skis. I’ve seen black people, bungee jumping, and stuff like that. So that’s why I chose adventurous. I’m like, yo, we’re not just laying around playing video games. Like we’re actually doing things, getting our hands dirty, you know? Compelling was because they’re always taking our stuff, you know? It’s like, we have to see where what’s going on over here. Like, we need a new style, what’s going over here. I kind of feel like, no matter how much you hate us, you still talking about us. It must be because you like us or you’re intrigued by us. You know, loyal actually it’s funny. Loyal came up because every black man I know was still married to their wife. My dad had been married to my mom for 30 years, 35 probably. I have uncles and aunts that have been married for 30 plus, you know, when my grandfather was alive, my grandparents were married for 55 years.
SUAVV: I want to touch on that real quick. That’s rare. To have a family dynamic where everyone stays married. And regardless of race, I think that’s just a rarity.
Pyerse: Every black person I know was grateful for what’s happened to them and where they come from. They’re totally grateful. I got friends right now, out here in LA and they’re still grateful for things I did to them in 2017. And finally, resilient is just because, even mean my life, you know, being a convicted felon, the disabilities, and still saying positive, still being optimistic, still loving my people to me that’s a sign of resilience. But then you look at our history, what we came through, it’s just resilient. There’s no, no way to describe it. And that’s how I think that’s why this is working. I’m gearing it towards not just our history, but you, you as an individual. And I think the fact that I personalized the word Black based on my life, I think that’s, what’s making this stand out.
SUAVV: Yeah. I think it’s important to not necessarily redefine what Black is but to reexplain. We as Black people, know what Being black is, but I think the fact that other cultures and other demographics don’t really fully understand us, and we’re constantly trying to reaffirm Blackness. I think the fact that you’re explaining that within your shirt and within your brand is extremely important. Because people need to associate more of those positive words with Blackness instead of the association with negative attributes, negative words, and negative actions. I think that’s amazing in itself.
Pyerse: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. And so what I did was like the next thing we did was my boy in Mozambique, JK, he is being like, like almost, I almost wanna call him like the mastermind of this project. Cause when I came in with this idea, he was like, you know, you really should gear that towards Africans as well. But how would I do that? I told him, I don’t know if I’m the right person for that. Because the closest I’ve been to Africa was Las Vegas and he was like, bruh, don’t worry about it. So what we did was I went with his home country, Mozambique. And I used the abbreviation MZQ and I took the Mozambique modern flag and then I went on Wikipedia to see what the colors mean in Mozambique? And it gave me the list of the colors, not only colors but what they mean. And so I took a lot of those meanings of the words, like African love or purity. I could have on a Mozambique flag here with a black hat and that could be a message. Now obviously it says black wealth, but you know, the individual would describe what it actually means. And so I started playing around with different African meanings and words. For Mozambique, I did the MZQ and I did 1975, which is the year of Mozambique’s independence from Portugal.
SUAVV: I know, for Black Americans, we tend to feel like there’s a divide between us and Africans. There’s the mindset that there’s not a full connection between the two; which I think a lot of those things are misconceptions, misunderstandings, and miscommunications because we’re not necessarily talking to Africans and Africans aren’t necessarily talking to Black Americans. So did you feel like creating that shirt was something that could mend that relationship? Was that something that you’re gearing that towards?
Pyerse: I think it would have. Now, I do think it’s gonna be kind of a challenge because I was told by many black Americans to not do African-based t-shirts and designs. However, I’m finding that there are a lot of black Americans that applaud it, for the reason that you just said. Hey, you’re bridging the gap, you are showing the connection between us with a Mozambican shirt, a Nigerian shirt, and a Ghananian shirt. That’s another form of blackness. Okay. Now with respect to the cultures, I understand that a Ghananian shirt is gonna mean something different to a Ghananian than it does to me. And if that’s the case, great, I did my job.
SUAVV: I think we’re one of the only cultures, which I may be mistaken, but I feel like we’re one of the only cultures where it’s very evident that we’re Black, but we never wanna make people uncomfortable with proclaiming that we’re Black…and it’s weird. And it’s something that’s always been iffy and tricky. You can be Irish and be proud and wear Irish flags. You can be French and be proud. Italian. Cool. Got you. From the UK. Cool. However, if you really start looking at Black people saying “We don’t really do the Black and proud thing because we don’t want anyone to make it to be uncomfortable with it”, you realize we don’t want you uncomfortable. We don’t really do too much “I’m Black” on our stuff because we don’t want it to come off the wrong way. So it’s the way that you did this that’s really smart. Because it’s not, it’s not something that makes the Black person wearing it “uncomfortable” and it shouldn’t make the person that is seeing it uncomfortable either.
Pyerse: I was supposed to do a shoot a year ago and I was talking to the director of photography and one thing I told him was when they wear this black shirt, it needs to have the same feel as a Mexican wearing his flag shirt on his chest. It needs to have the same amount of pride, the same amount of relevance. Because when a Mexican wears his shirt on his chest, it’s his whole heritage, his history, and it’s a resemblance to himself. And I feel like that’s what I feel when I wear this shirt. I also feel like I’m saying, “Hey, this is actually positive. This is actually for all of us.” And I noticed that it does change the frequency when I walk into a room when I wear it, to where I feel like people are more positive towards me. You know, obviously, there are a couple of people that I get a little sideways look from, but, aside from that, most people like, yo, I actually like what you did with that shirt. It’s not overbearing. It’s not preachy. It’s nice. Mexicans don’t wear their shirt because they hate white people. You know? Matter of fact, I have Mexicans in my family and when they wear their shirts, they don’t think about anybody but Mexicans. And so when I wore this shirt and I had to explain to people like it ain’t about you. It’s about us. I’m celebrating blackness. I’m celebrating myself. I’m celebrating what black people have done for me. I am celebrating what I’m doing for black people. That’s it. If you read anything negative about that, you put it there.
What Pyerse is doing is something that we find ourselves pushing more and more with every interview and magazine issue that we put out. We are working to not only change the perception of Black Americans but to empower our audience to see more in themselves. We applaud Pyerse for what he is doing and if you would like to purchase his clothing and support his cause, please visit www.LEXPYERSE.com