ArtistsUntold is a Black owned clothing brand that fuses art and fashion. The online retail platform provides up-and-coming Black artists with the opportunity to promote and monetize their artwork through apparel and fine art sales.
We spoke with co-founder, Jordan Abdur-Raoof to find out more about the company and its mission to empower Black artists.
What inspired the creation of ArtistsUntold and its business model?
I had followed this woman on Instagram for years and she was selling her artwork on apparel. I bought a shirt of hers, and it was just poor quality to be frank. It was then that I was like, you know this is something that I can do.
I could share the artists’ story, their art, and their mission by creating a platform to pay the artists a portion of each sale. It had everything that I was looking for in a social venture.
I talked with 30 to 40 people who critiqued it here and there, but generally speaking it seemed like a value proposition that a lot of artists really needed. The one thing that I think is unique to us is that we pay multiples higher than the industry standard to artists. Also, a lot of companies will make artists sign exclusivity agreements where they do not own their artwork anymore, but with us they still retain ownership.
Essentially the artists are licensing the artwork out to us, and if they one day decided that they did not want the artwork on ArtistsUntold anymore, easy enough; we will take it down. We are trying to be as pro-artist as possible.
How do you select which artists to work with?
It’s been quite a process. When we first started I’d send out 20 messages a day to different artists who had a few hundred to thousands of followers. And 99 percent of the time you wouldn’t get a response. That has now shifted since June with the Black Lives Matter movement, as it accelerated people’s validation of our value proposition and the service that we’re providing.
Now, some artists will reach out to us such as Brandon Brewer. Brandon reached out when he had about 75 followers. I thought to myself, ‘This is unbelievable. I love the work he’s doing, and I love his creative process along with what he communicates through his art’
Another example is Uzo, who had only a few thousand followers when we first partnered but now has about 50,000. Seeing them grow exponentially has been really exciting, and I am happy that I was able to see artists and their vision, discuss with our team, and run with it.
Now, it’s almost 100% inbound and we have artists apply and unfortunately, we need to turn artists down from time to time.
What is the most rewarding and most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?
The challenges and rewards go hand in hand. The hardest part of this is not having a blueprint, but that is what makes this so much fun. Everyday there is a new challenge, or idea, that we need to handle or implement. We are a smaller firm so we are extremely receptive and work hard to pivot quickly depending on customer feedback.
There is no direction list or manual, so you need to figure everything out for yourself. I make a joke that Google is my best friend, but honestly almost every problem I am confronted with I turn to Google and my partners Xander and Steven and we find a solution.
Whether it’s measuring sales taxes, hiring a marketing firm, figuring out Facebook ads, affiliate programs, shipping, how to best respond to client emails and provide excellent customer service, setting up an EIN & business bank account, accounting, or social media aesthetic we are able to learn, adapt, and implement on the fly.
Where do you see the business in 5 years?
In 5 years, we hope to be recognized as a premier socially conscious and sustainable streetwear & fine art brand. We would like to have a flagship store/gallery in New York and LA combining streetwear, fine art, music, and of course an amazing coffee bar.
We would also like to have a large enough following where any artist on our platform is making enough passive income to pursue art full time whether they have 50 followers or 50,000 followers.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
First and foremost, is to stop talking about it and actually do it. Create a business plan, share your plan and get as much feedback as possible and adapt on the fly because it will not be perfect. While at Cornell I took a lot of classes on Entrepreneurship that have acted as core pillars for this business.
The most important takeaways for me are to listen and ask for feedback & to adapt quickly based on these ‘interviews’ you are conducting. Lastly, there is a huge component of ‘Grit’ which is a passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals.
You have to have the ability to persist in something you feel passionate about and persevere when you face obstacles. I know every day when I wake up, I am going to work on ArtistsUntold whether I want to or not, because I have a commitment to empowering underrepresented communities both financially and by sharing narratives in a positive light that can challenge the stereotypes that exist in today’s society.
I know we have the potential to create hundreds of thousands of dollars in wealth for Black and underrepresented communities and the power to plant hundreds of thousands of trees. This drives me forward, so whatever you create, create it with the right intentions and try to put more good into the world.