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Black-owned clothing brand, Just A Freshman, deserves a spotlight

Section 1: Just a Freshman 

How did the name come about?

“I was completely against selling a brand during the worst time of our lives and when my factory garment shut down, it helped solidify my reasoning. But I had two partners who stayed optimistic and knew it would be in our best interest to keep going, and that is what we did.”

Founder, Tristan Bates along with his two co-founders, Tony Ballard and Jacoby Ihejirika started Just a Freshman in Fall 2019. 

Photo 1 (Left to Right): Tony Ballard is a co-founder. Tristan Bates is the founder, and Jacoby Ihejirika is a co-founder. 

Bates brand name was inspired by his oldest son, Jalen Bates, playing varsity football as a freshman. He mentioned during the games, fans in the stands would yell out, “He’s just a freshman?” or ask about his age because of his natural ability to always produce exceptional results in beast mode. 

This is when Just a Freshman emerged.

Photo 2: This is the logo for Just A Freshman. Graphic and Photo by Tristan Bates.

Why the panda?

Photo 3: Micaela Bates is modeling the first hoodie ever created and designed by Tristan Bates and his co-founders. Photo by Areonna Dowdy. 

Photo 4: These are the original Just a Freshman pants that were created to match the hoodie pictured above. The joggers were created in 2021 to match the hoodie. Photo by Areonna Dowdy.

Photo 5: The Just A Freshman joggers can be paired with low-top Jordan 1’s to add a pop of color. Photo by Areonna Dowdy. 

Bates stated he was using a generator to look for logos. 

“I knew I didn’t just want an F. I used to always tell my son good luck before games and when I searched good luck in the generator it spat out a panda with oversized glasses,” said Bates.

When the phrase generated a bear with glasses, Bates mentioned the bear appeared angry. He changed the face to be more appealing and added a black bow tie.

“I felt like I gave the bear more class when I added the bow tie. I showed my wife, and she made the bow tie red. I can say it made the bear stand out more,” said Bates.

Bates wants his brand to be more on a global spectrum than urban, one that reaches more people. From the name to the branding logo, he drove to produce something different. 

When it came to the style of the clothing, he strived to stay with the staple colors that are in the logo. 

“Typically, I base the colors off the season. I love colors and I find any excuse to bring in something bright,” said Bates. 

Bates gains insight from his wife, Micaela Bates, and from outside sources as well. 

“I like to ask myself what’s the IT color this upcoming season while also doing research,” Bates said. 

The Process

When Bates begun the start-up process of his clothing brand, he said the downfall was not having a lot of information. 

“I wasn’t sure where to begin. A lot of money was spent because I didn’t know where to start, so I went with a lot of recommended services. I quickly got away from that.” he said. 

Bates found a factory called Apparel Island Factory that is in Pakistan. 

“I liked that I could tell them the colors I wanted and they would have the colors in stock. The bad part was that I couldn’t be there to touch the material. I had to get a lot of things shipped just to sample the product,” Bates said. 

After an unfortunate experience with Apparel Island Factory, Bates decided to part ways and find a better factory that works well with handling his merchandise. 

As Bates continued to work through managing a business, the last thing he thought would happen would be a pandemic.

“Working during the beginning of the pandemic was fine until Illinois issued a stay-at-home order if you weren’t an essential worker. Unfortunately, the garment factory was not essential,” Bates said. 

After the factory shut down, Bates was unmoved by operating a business during the pandemic. Co-founder, Jacoby Ihejirika, thought otherwise. 

“I’m all about business. I help run a business with my dad so I believed we could work through this chaos,” said Ihejirika. 

Other co-founder, Tony Ballard, was for continuing the business as well.

“I’m a go-getter. I believed we could pull this off. We were getting ready to show the world a brand they couldn’t resist,” said Ballard. 

When the factory informed Bates, Ballard, and Ihejirika that they would be shutting down, the Spring Collection was about to drop. 

Photo 6: These hoodies were released during the Spring collection. They completely sold out and they dropped again because they were a hot commodity. Photo by Tristan Bates.

Photo 7: This year, Just A Freshman will be releasing this vibrant hoodie for Spring Break. This hoodie will be limited edition. Photo by Tristan Bates. 

“We had to send messages to everyone who did pre-order that the spring collection would be postponed, and they can either get their money back or wait until we resume,” said Bates. 

99% of the buyers told Bates to keep the money because they wanted their hoodie. Only one person wanted a refund. In that moment, Bates knew he should continue his business. 

Since that moment, Just A Freshman has been flourishing and receiving a lot of notoriety. Social media influencer, Tabitha Brown, Chicago manager, Londonondatrack, quarterback for the Bears, Justin Fields, and WNBA player, Cheyenne Parker have all gained notice of Bates’s brand and supported him.

As Just A Freshman continues to grow, Bates has a short term goal of opening a storefront. 

“I think the brand will be suited in a warmer climate, like California. I would also stick to an online store and special edition drops. I want to create a demand like Michael Jordan does with his gym shoes,” said Bates. 

Once Bates short-term goal is accomplished, he has a long-term goal of opening a garment factory in Chicago and being super hands on. Then will look to sell the rights to other entities. 

While Bates and his co-founders are looking to continue to build Just a Freshman brand, Bates and his wife, Micaela Bates, are looking to expand. Bates is in the beginning process of starting a kid’s line called Just A Freshie.

Photo 8: This is the logo for the kid’s line, Just A Freshie. Graphic by Tristan Bates.

Although Just A Freshie will be under Just A Freshman, it has its own Limited Liability Company. 

“Just A Freshman and Just A Freshie is like Gap and Gap for Kids but I’ll be making this line inspired by son TJ, who has Autism,” she said.

Bates said she wants to create fly clothes for children who have sensory differences. Just A Freshie is still in the beginning stages, but all information will be released soon once everything is set in stone.

You can shop Just A Freshman and visit their Instagram to take a look at their clothing. 

Prayer vs. Therapy: A talk with licensed clinical therapist, Micaela Bates

I spoke with Micaela Bates about a barrier that the Black community commonly faces and that is prayer vs. therapy. Many Black Americans were brought up in Christian homes with the notion that prayer fixes everything. Although some find this statement to be true, others believe the black community needs to start retrieving professional mental health assistance. In this interview, Bates spoke with me about why she decided to go into therapy, the effect of suppressing mental fears with spiritual faith, and how there can be a balance between praying and having a therapist. Take a listen!

Micaela Bates, Eclectic Approaches to Therapy, LLC

Michelle Levander moderates virtual event with science reporters, Helen Branswell and Katherine J. Wu

When will we see this pandemic come to an end?

Moderator, Michelle Levander, introduces the virtual event and the panelists for the event.

On January 19th, University of Southern California hosted a virtual event, “Covering Coronavirus: How Two Top Reporters Navigate COVID Confusion” to discuss strategies and goals for staying ahead of an ever-changing story, COVID. 

Award-winning journalists Helen Branswell of SWAT and Katherine J. Wu of The Atlantic spoke with attendees about testing, boosters, whether COVID has become endemic, and how COVID has affected their personal life outside of being a reporter. 

Moderator, Michelle Levander, posed a question to Branswell and Wu about how they would describe where we are now as a country. 

“Just because we’re at the peak does not mean the wait is over. We have a long way to go before we see Omicron in the rear-view mirror,” said Branswell. Wu added to the statement and mentioned we know a lot but things are bad. 

After both Wu and Branswell reflected on where we are now, moderator, Levander, asked them to explain how they reiterate in their writing that science is always changing. 

“There are challenges reporting these types of stories. I started practicing science four years ago and during that time, I realized findings don’t always lead to snappy headlines. There are times where I write in pieces we don’t know x,y,or z and experts who are willing to be transparent and confident in not always knowing are important,” Wu said.

As concerns continue to grow and developments continue to emerge, there is a current theme that is undressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, equity.

“Equity is a under covered aspect of the pandemic. It’s as if promoting health is in our hands. We have to start meeting people where they’re at. None of us are safe until all of us are safe,” Wu said. 

We are entering the third year of the pandemic and it can be exhausting, Wu and Branswell explains how it has affected them outside of being reporters.

“It was tough. Early in the pandemic, I was overwhelmed. It was hard to figure out what I was going to do next, but I had fabulous editors who helped me figure out what to carry on my back and express when I needed help. I want to write about something else,” Branswell said. 

Wu, in agreement with Branswell said she tried to write about other things to protect her sanity. 

“I felt a lot of sadness and loneliness. I miss my family and my friends. I’m also happy to be a part of an outlet that is really supportive,” said Wu.