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Local designer behind Greenwood Ave. patches hopes the brand inspires Black entrepreneurs around the world

Goldmill Co. CEO Trey Thaxton in a promotional photo for FC Tulsa's 2022 kits, which have a patch for his Greenwood Ave. brand on the sleeve for a second season.
FC Tulsa's 2022 kits have a patch for Goldmill Co. CEO Trey Thaxton's Greenwood Ave. brand on the sleeve for a second season. Thaxton participated in a promotional photo shoot for the new uniforms.

In 2022, FC Tulsa jerseys will continue bearing a Greenwood Ave. patch on one sleeve. Local designer Trey Thaxton’s brand aims to call attention to the district’s innovative side. KWGS’s Matt Trotter spoke with Thaxton, who's also CEO of creative consulting firm Goldmill Co., about his work to spread Greenwood’s spirt, starting with the patch. A full transcript of that conversation follows; the broadcast version was edited for time.

MT: Tell me how that ended up happening again and sort of your thoughts on that continuing.

TT: For sure, yeah. So, we started the patch promotion last year, and all the sales are going to the Terence Crutcher Foundation. FC Tulsa, Sarah Crenshaw and the merch team reached out, said, “Hey, this went so well, we got so much good feedback and positive reviews,” asked, “What if we did it again for another season?” So, obviously, it was a no-brainer for me, wanting to help give more proceeds to charity but also help amplify what's happening with Greenwood now and moving toward the future.

MT: And FC Tulsa's not the only sports entity sporting the Greenwood patch, right?

TT: Yeah, so, thanks to, again, this partnership. They actually hosted a Tulsa Tough event, which is a bicycling event here in town, and Team Rapha L39ION out of L.A. – they're the only Black-owned cycling team in the nation, from my understanding – and they loved the idea of the patch partnership so much, they had been wearing it on their sleeve, their uniform the entire season. They just reached out last week about continuing that partnership through 2022 as well. So, again, it's beautiful to see this resonating, not just for me to be able to say that we have something on these teams' shirts, but it's that they're trying to amplify Black-owned businesses and just reiterate what happened here 100 years ago.

MT: So, part of it's commemoration for the Race Massacre, but like you mentioned, there's this component about showing people what's going on with Greenwood today. So, talk about that some. What's important for people to know about what's going on with Greenwood today?

TT: Yeah, so I can say specifically for what our brand, Greenwood Ave., represents is the goal is to really make that synonymous with Black entrepreneurship. So, not just in Tulsa, but around the world. So, obviously, what happened here 100 years ago with the massacre, that's forever history. And now even with critical race theory and that trying to be pushed out of schools, it's more important than ever to continue to tell their story. And for me, it's really about if we can show this younger generation, like, this existed, this happened, that you are – you know, we're more than just rappers or just singers or just NBA players. Like, there's other things you could do. There's ideas, there's dreams, there's visions that you can bring to fruition, that could actually happen, and that's really what Greenwood Ave. represents to me.

MT: And you're kind of the embodiment of that yourself. I mean, you've got your design firm with Goldmill, you've got the Greenwood Ave. brand, you've got the 19&21 store. Talk about how all the work that you're doing ties into what you want to accomplish here.

TT: Sure, well, yeah. The essence of our creative industry Goldmill is really to create things that have value. I launched it in 2017. My background's in branding, design and advertising, and, you know, I worked for an agency for a couple of years, and I worked at a church one of the fastest-growing churches in the country out here out of Tulsa and stepped down in 2017 to start my own company. And, you know, being in advertising for a while, we sell cars and clothes and shoes and things that are supposed to make you happy, but I really want everything we touch to have real value. So, that's really where the name Goldmill comes from and that's – so, Greenwood Ave. to me is a product of that. It's clothing, but that's really secondary to the mission behind it. We have other products that we're going to be launching next year as well, but really, I just want to create a place that we can do what we love to do but also everything we do has value and meaning behind it as well. So, yeah, I feel like we embody what Greenwood Ave. is. It's really just having ideas and being able to bring those into fruition, and I don't take that lightly that we're able to do that in this space and in this time. So, I'm honored to be a part of this.

MT: Do you feel any kind of pressure in this role? I mean, trying to bring so much awareness to Greenwood and everything? Or is it really kind of a labor of love and what happens, happens?

TT: Yeah, I think, I guess it could be pressure-filled, but I try not to do things where [I put] too much stress on myself, like that's – not in that position to do that in life anymore. Honestly, it started as a labor of love, and I want it to continue to be that way. I think even the fact that we started giving 10% back to when I was only making, you know, selling 10 or so shirts a month, I was already giving back to the community. So, it always started as a way to amplify others more than just me. So, from its impetus, from its birth, it was already not about Trey. So, it's really not a lot of pressure for me. It's really about how far can we take this? And honestly, I was talking to somebody else about “What if?” What happens when everybody knows about Greenwood and what happened here? Then, to me, that's a win. If Greenwood Ave. becomes irrelevant and we don't have to amplify Black businesses and they're just always supported and they're always, you know, at the forefront of people's minds, then that's a win. So, I don't feel any pressure. I feel like what I'm called to do with this, it's going to do what it needs to do in that time.

MT: Do you think it's ever going to reach that point you just mentioned, where the need to amplify Black businesses is not there anymore? People just see them as businesses that anybody will go patronize?

TT: Wishful thinking. I don't know. It's hard to say. It's hard to say yes to that, but I think we're on the right path. But yeah, it's hard to say, especially with talking about critical race theory and how much the powers that be are trying to keep history like this out of books, and it's not just Greenwood, it's the whole summer of – the whole Red Summer in the 1920s where there's other massacres around, talking not just businesses – but that kind of stuff is still being learned, and there'll always be a new generation that needs to know. So, hopefully it becomes less of a need, but I feel like there'll always be something. Inspiration is always necessary for me, so that's what this brand really represents, inspiring the next generation or inspiring the next person to say, like, “Hey, I have this idea. If Trey can do it, he's just a designer from Tulsa, why can't I do this, too?”

MT: So, have you thought about what comes next? You've got some more visibility for Greenwood and what the district is about with these patches, got some funds coming back to the Terence Crutcher Foundation for the Black Wall Street Memorial, you've got the 19&21 stuff. Yeah, now what? What comes next for Trey?

TT: There's a lot happening on the other side. Like I mentioned, our creative agency that runs Greenwood Ave. is growing. My goal, our goal for next year – I’ll say our theme for next year, rather, for Greenwood Ave. – is Greenwood Ave. is everywhere. So, our goal now is to really connect what happened here in Tulsa to around the world. So it's, we have our entrepreneurship series that we have on our site, greenwoodave.com. The first seven episodes have been all entrepreneurs in Tulsa, but we want to start telling stories about other entrepreneurs outside of Tulsa. So, Atlanta and the UK and Africa and Miami and Chicago, Detroit. Really connect the spirit of Greenwood, which is innovation, and make that synonymous around the world. And then we're also going to launch a podcast and a quarterly print book as well, just to be able to tell more stories and amplify other people and other businesses. So, yeah, that's the next iteration of Greenwood Ave.

MT: So I – you know, I'll admit I kind of got caught up with it being the brand and the patch and everything, but it sounds like you've got kind of a full plan for resources and other things that can kind of guide people to doing their own thing like you are.

TT: Yeah, 100%. We have, again, that's kind of where it started from. We started doing the shirts in 2018 and then, you know, launched it during Black History Month and it's usually everybody's, like, “Yay, Black people!” in February for Black History Month and then March 1 it's like, “OK, well, talk to you next year.” So, that's where the entrepreneurship series came in. How do we keep this story going beyond, you know, just the month? So, the series has been going on my own, and then we're starting to add more people to the team so we're able to tell more stories. So, there's the merch side, there's a merch component, there's the storytelling through a video, then we'll do storytelling through a podcast and print as well starting next year.

MT: So, what kind of feedback, what kind of reception have you gotten from people with the video series?

TT: The video's been awesome. We actually were able to partner with a local company called Build in Tulsa, whose mission is to really expand the infrastructure of Black wealth here in Tulsa. We did something called A Night on Greenwood Ave. where we streamed two of our episodes and got us to talk about entrepreneurship in Tulsa and how we come together and, you know, what does the spirit of Greenwood mean here. So, honestly, I think that will be something that we probably try to do in other cities as well, but whether it be international, whether it be here in Tulsa – we have the popup at Mother Road – we get so many people coming by, some people just in tears, like, “Hey, I grew up in Tulsa, I never heard about this, like, thank you so much for just sharing the knowledge.” And for me, really the only not even pressure but hesitation when I started was that I've been here since I was 11, but I'm not a descendant, I wasn't born and raised here, and I know that means a lot to a lot of people who were. So, I want to make sure I'm always doing right by those people. And I'm not the foremost expert on all things Greenwood. So, for me, it's, like, hey, I'll tell you about it and I can just point you to people who know more than I do. So, for me, it's just a great way to share knowledge and then, “Hey, Greenwood Rising is a great resource. Greenwood Cultural Center does some good things. Terence Crutcher Foundation is doing amazing things.” So, I've been able to point people to others who are doing great things as well.

MT: Has that posed any difficulties for you, not being a native Tulsan or not being directly tied to Greenwood?

TT: Only difficulty for me has been, like, making sure I'm getting the right information. So, trying to research. Like, we did those first shirts, like, “Hey, what businesses actually existed?” or “Where were these at?” or “How can I tell more people about the things that I'm also amplifying?” So, that's been the hardest part for me, just getting, gathering this information, but as the story, you know, becomes more and more uncovered as the years go by, I think that will become even easier. But again, for me, it's just like yes, this happened. We're kind of more about Greenwood's future and then we're kind of honoring the past, pointing to people who are telling that past story, and then also highlighting people who are still carrying on the legacy today.

MT: So nothing like, you know, people who maybe had ancestors that experienced the Race Massacre going, “Oh, well, here's this guy who's just trying to advance his own brand off of us”?

TT: Not to my face or via email or anything that I'm aware of. I have had a few descendants reach out, actually, and say thank you and, “Hey, this is really cool. My dad had a shop on Greenwood.” Or I'll get emails from people from California say, like, “Hey, my great-granddad had a shop down there and my family still lives there and they'll buy some stuff, “Oh, I want to tell them about this stuff.” The thing I've gotten most often is people saying thank you for continuing the story, which I hope continues and you know again the reason we give back to typically north Tulsa with the percentages that I want to make sure that this community is always at the heart of why we're doing what we're doing because that's where we're starting from.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.