With consumers in over 44 countries and over three million in sales just last year, it’s no wonder why Family Christian stores reached out to Houston’s premier Christian athletic wear company, Active Faith. With its signature tag line, In Jesus Name I Play, athletic wear just became worth the sweat. With the help of Active Faith’s strong online presence, and the social media promotion from professional athletes like Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the e-commerce clothing line will now unify athleticism and the Gospel beyond the computer screen.
Family Christian has partnered with Active Faith to carry their brand in over 200 stores across the nation to help spread the message of God while working out in the gym, on the football field or simply in the grocery store. Active Faith’s CEO Lanny Smith, spoke with Empower Magazine about the partnership with Family Christian stores, what’s next for the brand and the launch of his edgy and contemporary laptop bag collection this holiday season.
Empower Magazine: Wow, it’s only been four years and Active Faith is already in a national retail chain, tell me how the partnership with Family Christian stores came about?
Lanny Smith: It’s actually a funny story. I was begging them to put Active Faith in their stores maybe 3 years ago, but they really had a lot of doubt with the company. They thought it was something that would fail and would never work in the store. So after many conversations, they turned it down and I began focusing on e-commerce. Our customers are from all over the world and they buy Active Faith straight from the website, so I started to forget about retail as our website sales began to increase. The mainstream stores didn’t give us a chance because it was faith based, and the Christian stores to be honest, are behind the times on what’s in, because they were so traditional. In June, they reached out to us because they began to notice the brand everywhere. Their customers began calling the stores asking did they carry the line, because they saw Christian athletes wearing the products on social media. Family Christian ended up cleaning house and bringing in a whole new head for the company, who wanted to modernize the stores and bring in a younger demographic. They ended up contacting us and telling us that they needed our brand in their stores to pull in that younger demographic. We signed a deal with them in June and the following month they picked us up. First, they ordered workout gear for men and women, which included some best sellers like the hoodies and some long sleeve tees, and in the first two months they sold out. As we speak, we are already on the sixth order with them. The product is doing well and they continue to add more to their in-store collection.
EM: What stood out the most about Family Christian as to why you agreed to have them carry Active Faith in their stores?
LS: For one, I appreciate the fact that they came back and asked us to give them a chance. It was like the tables were turned now. Secondly, I had a long talk with the CEO, and he explained the vision for the company and how he shared a similar vision with my brand. From a business standpoint, it’s been great to add to the revenue, and from a branding and impact standpoint it’s been great for the consumers to go into their local Family Christian stores and buy it off the rack. There are a lot of people who like to still go into the store and feel the product before purchasing, and Family Christian has allowed us to do just that.
EM: Have you seen a dramatic increase in sales since the partnership?
LS: The website has already grown in itself, but with the addition of Family Christian, the increase in sales has taken it to another level. We are doubling and tripling the amount of sales that we were doing last year. It is crazy the type of impact we have, being that we have an online platform and that we are in the stores.
EM: What has the response been from the stores about the merchandise?
LS: It’s very overwhelming. We have gotten such a positive response to the product being in the stores. They are saying that they have a lot of younger people coming into the stores looking for the Active Faith line. They are also saying that having Active Faith in the stores is definitely an energy boost for the company.
EM: It sounds like the sales are increasing rapidly because of the affiliation with Family Christian, so now tell us about the numbers.
LS: Last year, we finished with about three million in sales, and this year with the growth of the website plus the addition to Family Christian stores, we are going to finish up anywhere between nine to 11 million in sales. So we are still talking about doubling and tripling the amount of revenue from last year.
EM: Now, you spoke with the CEO of Family Christian and he expressed to you how the vision for the stores has changed and how he wanted to add Active Faith into the change of vision. Has the vision changed for Active Faith now that the company is more established?
LS: No, it has not changed. I want the mission and foundation of the company to remain the same, which is to give glory to God and to spread the gospel through any sport, so that part will never change no matter how big the company becomes. I really like what Family Christian has done with the company now. They changed the way they do business now by becoming a non-profit. So once everything is paid off they donate all the profit that is left over to different causes, charities and missions. We are actually developing an exclusive product for Family Christian so that the profits of that line will be donated to a specific ministry. We haven’t nailed down which ministry we want that line to support, but we do have several ministries that we are looking to help out.
EM: As you continue to market Active Faith, are you starting to target local businesses here in Houston like schools or city youth leagues?
LS: That has always been a big target for Active Faith to be in all of the Christian schools around the city and at every age level. We have had schools and leagues contact us to be their sports apparel provider, but our team is small now and we were not able to expand in that way this year. In 2017, we are looking to expand the team so that we can start taking advantage of getting the brand to Christian schools. There is a lot of energy there and we hope to explore that avenue of the business soon. Outside of that, we are starting a church program to where churches are able to register with our website and when any of their members purchase product, a certain percentage will be given back to their church’s congregation. They may not have the physical space in their church to sell Active Faith, but they can purchase through the website and give back to their church as well. Hopefully, we will have that launched the first quarter of 2017.
EM: Is there anything else new with Active Faith that we can look forward to next year?
LS: Besides the church initiative and incorporating Active Faith products into Christian schools, we are also looking to add new gear to the website. We have a lot of parents asking us to expand the youth line, so we are looking into that for the youth. We have some newly designed hoodies and joggers for men and women. Also, look out for the new tights for women. We have new slides, duffle bags, water bottles, hats and beanies. We are even working on Active Faith sports equipment like baseballs, basketballs, footballs just different types of equipment with the Active Faith brand.
EM: Today, athleisure wear is the go-to clothing wear. We are always in a rush and we love to be comfortable, so it seems to me that Active Faith is right there at the top with hot designs and great quality of clothing as some of the hottest brands are today.
LS: You know as millennial’s, we like to be comfortable. We know how to dress when we have to dress the part, but most of the time we like to dress down when we are working from home or when we are running errands. The althleisure market is the fastest growing clothing market and for us to tap into that and offer that type of clothing with a message and is still fashionable, definitely sets us apart. Regardless of the message, if the product looks cheap then no one will wear it, and to us having quality product with a message is big.
EM: Now, I know that Active Faith has thousands of followers on social media, including a number of professional athletes like NBA players Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving. How did you get the support of the players?
LS: I’m a former player, and I either grew up playing with them or against them. I built strong relationships, whether it was playing in AAU or professional ball, so when I started the company I knew I wanted to reach out to those who I knew would understand the message. They were excited about it, and a few of the players wanted to go in with the brand. A player would be seen wearing a band in a game and his teammate or an opponent will see it and ask them about it, and the player would either give them the wristband or say that they got it from Lanny or Active Faith. We get a lot of sports agents that call and request gear for their client who is a Christian and wants to wear the clothing. Sometimes we have had guys just buy things for their entire team and share it with them. It’s really growing because of their teammate’s word of mouth. A lot of these guys have existing deals with Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, but it’s the fact that they are not being paid to wear the product but they still wear it because they believe in the message.
EM: We have seen Stephen Curry on the front cover of major magazines wearing Active Faith wristbands, how does it feel to see your company on the cover of a magazine?
LS: Sometimes it’s surreal, and with Steph, he is a friend of mine and a partner in Active Faith. When he first got down with the brand, he was new in the game – he had a couple of ankle injuries and they were wondering if he was going to be able to play again and a lot of people didn’t know him then or give him the attention that he has now. To see him fight back from that injury, become back-to-back MVP and win the NBA championship, all while wearing Active Faith, is a very humbling and exciting experience at the same the time.
EM: It seems that Active Faith is sort of a conversation starter.
LS: Yeah, people will tell me how they were in the airport wearing the gear and a complete stranger would come up to them and talk about things that they probably would have never said to them if they were not wearing the clothes. It’s bigger than just the clothes. I feel like it’s something that God has blessed me with. I was hurt in the beginning because I felt like my dream of playing basketball was taken away from me, but now I see that God had something different for me.
EM: I see you have been dropping hints on social media of a new company that you are launching soon, tell me more about this company.
LS: As I was working with my designer for Active Faith, we were coming up with new backpack designs and we ended up developing a laptop bag that is not sports related. They are fashionable and have a modern look to them, but I knew that I could not sell them under the Active Faith brand so we decided to create a new company. The company is called DTBG, which means “Dare To Be Great.” It’s a brand that is aimed at entrepreneurs, creatives, young professionals, freelancers, students, basically anyone. We all have something in common, goals and dreams that we are trying to accomplish. So this line is an encouraging line, it’s daring you to be great. Obviously, in this day in age, whatever you are doing, at some point you will be working on your iPad or your laptop. Our generation doesn’t carry around briefcases anymore, but we still want to be fashionable while we carry our laptops. So we felt this bag can kind of fill the void by being functional with whatever mobile computer device you are working with. All of our bags will be under $100; they are really affordable compared to some of the other laptop bags out there. The line should be launching in November just before the holiday season.