That last place turned out to be immensely important. Not just because this mall used to be so popular, but because it was there that Dawaud met Kesney, who is now Big Printing’s CFO, and Dawaud’s partner in the marriage.
Kesney had a different background from Dawaud, who grew up on 86th Avenue and Birch Street in East Oakland. She comes from the suburb of East Bay in Benicia. A Howard University graduate who worked in Silicon Valley, her expert in financial management. It would prove to be a key.
With her dexterity, Big Pimpin ‘Turf Clothes has renamed herself Big Printing. It also grew from a single press in Dawaud’s grandmother’s home to multiple presses.
Dawaud and Kesney married around the turn of the millennium, got a loft across from McClymonds High School in West Oakland in 2002, and bought an automatic press in 2004. In 2005 they moved to 900 Doolittle Drive in San Leandro.
New threads fresh from the Big Printing press for Detroit-based clothing company BossTooDeath. (Pendarvis Harshaw)
Together with the acquisition of two embroidery machines, this move enabled the company to move from a 1,500 square foot location to a 2,500 square foot location in the same area. Two years later, they doubled in size to 5,000 square feet, still in San Leandro.
As the company grew, they sharpened the focus of their clientele: motorcycle clubs, churches, and startup streetwear brands.
Using social media, especially Instagram and its paid ads, the company has been able to find customers from across the country. “We found a lot more of ourselves,” says Dawaud of his community of African American entrepreneurs.
“We were happy and grateful to be a three press and embroidery business,” says Kesney. “But when we started working towards our niche market for branding, we saw that need for our community.” Kesney says the business has been a magnet for young African American people who “had great vision and cool ideas and just needed a little help to bring it to life”.
Kesney Muhammad checks her phone in the Big Printing reception area. (Lauren J. Richardson of LacedMedia)
C.In fact, Big Printing can’t reveal the name of the giant Fortune 500 company that placed the huge order for Black Lives Matter. But years of doing business have led Kesney to understand the importance of that order, and how this is a step in finding a cure for America’s economic divide.
Talking to her brought up issues I was familiar with, such as the wealth gap between black and white households and the unemployment rate in the United States, which is always worse for African Americans than for any other population group. But until I spoke to Kesney, I didn’t know that so few black-owned companies actually have employees.
Citing the 2012 US Census of Business Owners, BlackDemographics.com reports that approximately 95% of African American businesses have no staff other than the owner or partnership.
Combine that with analysis by the National Bureau of Economic Research that in the early stages of COVID-19, “African American businesses were particularly hard hit, down 41 percent,” and you begin to see the importance of this to little black people is a company that is to be integrated into the supply chain of larger companies.
Big Printing had some early licks this year as business slowed in China, but otherwise they haven’t been phased out by COVID-19. If anything, the pandemic brought business to their door. “Business started to skyrocket,” says Dawaud, noting that some people thank them for simply being open.
But nothing was like the big job they got at the beginning of summer.
“I don’t know anyone who has made 100,000 shirts,” says Dawaud, proudly reflecting on the mission his company has fulfilled.
“We have a business,” says Kesney in a keynote. “We work for the money we make. We do a hell of a job for every customer we print. Just the chance to bid on this type of order is great for us and well deserved.”
Hats are embroidered at Big Printing HQ. (Pendarvis Harshaw)
After 25 years of steady growth, with the major order, Big Printing was able to increase its workforce by almost 20% in just three weeks, acquire new machines and double its physical footprint.
The beneficiaries of this investment will be the owners and employees, as well as the numerous members of the community that the company serves, which is heavily African American.
Kesney and Dawaud understand this ripple effect. They also understand the waves of suffering that Africans and Americans face when it comes to inequalities, particularly economic inequality, in the United States.
Says Dawaud, “You can make a statement or make a donation. But you really don’t have to go that far to make a difference. All you really have to do is go to your procurement department and ask,” Are we doing business with black vendors? “If not, make a conscious effort to change that.”