Rep. Ford visits T-shirt making venture in Austin

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An ordinary house in the 900 block of North Waller Street is also a sort of warehouse for an apparel business that state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford praised last week as he pushes for more jobs in Austin.

Austin resident Theartis Clary, founder of Forever Fly LLC, showed the lawmaker around his mother’s small basement, where he has combined six silk screen printers to produce T-shirts for his 1-year-old clothing business.

The company’s designs revolve around its double-F logo, often putting twists on recognizable symbols, like the Chicago Bulls bull head. Clary said he’ll print clients’ customized designs and keep the wooden frames for display in the basement to show the variety of T-shirts they make.

Through word of mouth and passing out promotional wristbands, the business based in an Austin has produced over 5,000 shirts since January, Clary said.

Customers who aren’t local can order online at

“We just sent shirts out to the U.K.,” Clary said.

Clary invited Rep. Ford to check out his business after meeting him at domestic violence awareness event earlier in the summer.

Ford said he’ll now try to help Clary get registered as a minority business owner, which would offer him counseling on running a small business. And minority businesses are often given preference when the state or city needs a business or service performed.

Ford said there’s a clear lack of small businesses in Austin, a fact apparent to many who live or spend time in the city’s most-populated neighborhood.

But any business like Forever Fly can be supported on a state or city level if its considered for certain contracts, like printing uniforms for inmates at Cook County Department of Corrections, Ford said.

And if opportunities like that are possible, Ford said it would inspire more people in Austin to open their own small businesses, Ford said.

“We want to inspire people to use their talents,” Ford said.

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) said she wants to have special planning sessions where she encourages small businesses to open shop in her ward’s Tax Increment Financing district, where tax dollars are reserved to help redevelop a blighted area. New business owners can use this TIF money to fund their developments, she said.

These sessions have not yet been planned, but Graham said she’s working on setting dates.

Ald. Michael Chandler (24th), Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) as well as the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development did not return calls for comment.

Small business development was one of many topics discussed at a recent community planning meeting for the 29th Ward, where residents described what they wanted to see in in Austin.

Residents who have ideas should start doing their own researching so they can start getting the help they need sooner rather than later, Graham said.

Clary said he and his three partners wanted to create a business after they left college that would help improve Austin and send a social justice-related message. For instance, one shirt on their website has a skyline shaped from guns and has the label “Chiraq,” comparing the city’s gun violence to the Iraq war.

The businessmen also devised the “No Child Left Unfly” to show support for investment in children and their education, Clary said.

For now, the team isn’t considering opening up shop in Austin beyond the basement HQ now in use but is looking at a spot in Chinatown, Clary said.

But Clary said the company wants to bring profits back to the community. When the business is well-established, he said they’ll create a non-profit arm that would donate back to the area’s schools.

“We want to see this area get better. That’s what this was about,” Clary said.

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