Written by: Leonard Parker | Houston Business News | 08th September
Like many mothers, Alissa Gipson looked forward to the moment she could finally trust her son with a box of crayons. But when that day came, she was ultimately puzzled by her son’s first color choice: Brown.
“I was like, ‘Brown? Why don’t you try again? Pick a different color,’ and as I was saying this I realized I was teaching him that brown isn’t a good color. That there’s way better colors out there than brown. And suddenly it was like a light bulb for me: We teach our children without even realizing it that brown is not a desirable color, and we don’t even understand why we do this until years down the road when kids are making fun of kids with brown skin. I had that experience growing up.”
Alissa, 32, knew for years she wanted to start a children’s clothing business, but as a busy tax attorney and a mom to a 1-year-old son, she realized that this dream business would likely come to fruition closer to retirement age than in her early thirties. But then the events of 2020 happened: the murder of George Floyd, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and a call for social justice and change across the U.S.
Naseberry's products are priced between $25 to $40.CKO Digital
During this time, Alissa and her husband Neimann Gipson, 33, also an attorney, reflected upon the responsibility they felt as parents and members of the Black community to impart change. And for them, it all came back to that moment when their son chose the color brown above all others. They wanted to teach him and other children that brown was something to proudly wear and to proudly be. So Alissa acted on her dream of opening a children’s clothing business, and decided it would be dedicated to featuring the color brown.
“I wanted to celebrate brown, and not as an accent color, but as the focal color where everything is built around it,” Alissa said.
For the company’s name, Alissa’s mother, Hermione Lall, suggested the name Naseberry, after a Jamaican fruit that turns brown when it’s ripe. Lall was born and raised in Jamaica, and Alissa and Neimann were married there.
“Other fruits are brown when they’re rotten and old, but a naseberry is brown when it’s ripe and ready to eat. It’s the perfect embodiment of what we want the brand to portray,” Alissa said.
Naseberry's clothing comes in sizes fit for babies as young as 6 months old to children up to 5 years old.CKO Digital
In creating Naseberry’s debut collection, Alissa worked with a consulting firm in Austin to sample fabrics, create technical drawings and manage the relationship with the factory that produces Naseberry’s products. The clothes, which feature sizes from 6 months to 5T, are made with 100% organic cotton and feature designs sketched and hand-drawn by both Alissa and her father, Gregory Lall. Though Neimann helps Alissa with Naseberry, he doesn’t hold a formal position with the company.
Naseberry’s first collection, which has eight brown-centric products including a fruit-illustrated polo, a soft swaddle and a pom-pom-lined frock, launched on Juneteenth this year.
“It felt like an appropriate day,” Neimann said.
Naseberry's patterned fabrics are hand-drawn by founder Alissa Gipson and her father.CKO Digital
All orders are packaged and shipped by the couple, who said they have worked through the kinks many first-year businesses face.
“We did pre-sale orders and had a backlog that we needed to send out, so when we received the clothing we decided to pack them on a Friday night. We started at 9 p.m. and were up past midnight trying to figure out the label maker, which broke so many times,” she joked. “But it’s been a great experience together.”
Alissa is currently working on ideas for Naseberry’s next collection, which should launch in spring 2022. She was hoping to do a holiday collection this year, but between COVID-19 and current shipping delays, she realized that the clothes would not arrive in time to fulfill orders.
Dr. Courtney Jacocks Chance, a general dentist in the Heights, said she chose to buy a Naseberry dress for her 22-month-old daughter not only because the fabric is organic, but also because it is from a mom-founded, Black-owned business.
Naseberry's clothing for children aims to make the color brown a focal point.CKO Digital
“Given the fact that she started this business not only during a pandemic, but also during a sensitive time during the rise of Black Lives Matter, I think it speaks volumes to her character to start a business committed to something so meaningful and impactful,” Chance said.
Heide Iravani, co-founder and CEO of Piccolina, a popular children’s clothing line, knows something about producing clothing with a purpose. Like the Gipsons, Iravani wanted children to understand that it’s okay to be an activist and stand up for social change at a young age. That’s why she and her team developed Piccolina’s popular “Trailblazer Collection,” which features colorful illustrations of female activists, leaders and innovators like Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, Harriet Tubman and Maria Montessori.
Piccolina co-founders Heide Iravani (left) and Emily Clifford.Courtesy of Piccolina
“I started the company because at a fundamental level I realized that most of what was on the market for children from clothes to toys to media really undercut the values I wanted to instill in my children,” Iravani said. “Because of my own life experience of overcoming adversity through education and activism, I wanted to teach my children to lean into values of equality and leadership and civic participation, and I just wasn’t seeing that message anywhere in kids products.”
Though Naseberry isn’t as big as Piccolina just yet, Alissa and Neimann are considering avenues to grow Naseberry, including the possibility of outside investors. For now, they are taking it one day at a time. What Neimann knows for sure, though, is that he and his wife are committed to raising their son to be proud of who he is and where he comes from.
“We want to make sure he doesn’t have to go through life not being able to truly identify and accept who he is as a Black man,” Neimann said. “We want him in an environment where he can be himself and where skin and hierarchy doesn’t matter. That’s all a part of what the business is and what the mission is for us.”
And as for Alissa, she said she now experiences immeasurable glee when her son chooses the color brown from both his closet and his coloring box:
“Now I make sure to celebrate extra, like, ‘Yes, brown is the best color! Keep choosing brown.’”