From Humanize My Hoodie to Josina’s Handmade, UI alumni and students share their journeys as black people in business and lead the way to success.
Black students make up just 3.01% of those enrolling at the University of Iowa in fall 2021, meaning those pursuing business ventures often have to create their own path to success.
Andre Wright, a 2005 UI graduate with a BFA with a focus on graphic design, carved out an avenue for himself that led to the co-founding of his fashion activism brand, Humanize My Hoodie. .
Wright said it was uncomfortable to be one of the only black students in his classes, but he maintained an activism lens throughout his work, allowing him to retain a sense of identity.
“I was able to create my own environment and I knew I was unique,” Wright said. “And then I was able to capitalize on those things by creating various business chains.”
Wright said he had few black “heroes” in graphic design to user interface, so he blazed his own trail running several apparel-centric businesses in college, though he didn’t have had no formal training in fashion.
The activist mindset and diligence Wright maintained throughout his schoolwork and entrepreneurial ventures contributed to the success of Humanize My Hoodie, a brand that grew from a mission to a movement.
Wright said the brand originated as a conversation to raise awareness about criminalization among black people by wearing hoodies and evolved into action through cultural skills workshops, graphic design classes, fashion shows amplifying ancestors, and more.
“The fashion piece is just a vehicle to be able to hold the conversation and get it across as many bodies as possible,” Wright said.
Fourth-year global health major Sandrah Nasimiyu co-founded her company, Josina’s Handmade, while in high school. Josina’s Handmade employs approximately 45 different artists along the eastern coast of Africa, producing handcrafted homewares and jewelry.
Nasimiyu works outside of school, sometimes spending weekends finding live events to showcase the handmade products while managing international laws and paperwork for the products.
She said she wants Josina’s Handmade to continue to grow but also stay in-home so each piece continues to feel personal to the customer.
“I don’t want it to become something so mainstream, which is continually copyrighted,” Nasimiyu said. “Because each of our pieces is handmade and unique, no one is alike.”
Rita Guzmán, a graduate of UI in 2018, is an enrollment consultant at AllCampus, an organization responsible for reducing the cost of education in the United States through collaborations with their partner universities. She majored in marketing and, like Wright, was often one of the few black students in her classes.
Coming from a small town, Guzmán was more used to a lack of diversity before attending UI. However, there were times when Guzmán said she found herself faced with different and uncomfortable perspectives in class discussions.
She used her opinion in what she described as a “means of survival”, she said. She advises young black entrepreneurs to use their voices as well.
“If you’re trying to improve things like representation, especially in business schools, it’s important to keep pushing and speaking your mind,” Guzmán said. “If you have ideas, thoughts and perspectives, share them. Don’t be silent.