Durham entrepreneur Alvin Howard tries to counter a culture of cruelty and shame with his brand Good Steward Apparel.
Howard, who also works as a housing specialist for Carolina Outreach, a Durham-based health services company, said his clothes are about stewardship, which he defined as "the rent we pay to take up space in this world.”
Whether someone is having a rough day or in a bad mood, they’re reminded to "put on" stewardship and make sure to be kind, he said.
Journey to establishing Good Steward
Howard said through different experiences at a young age, he has seen "how cruel the world can be."
He grew up homeless across multiple U.S. states – never spending more than a year at one school. He said he was always the first to board and the last to get off the school bus in an effort to prevent others from finding out that he was homeless.
Howard also said that he had a strained relationship with his mother because she struggled with drug addiction.
After returning to Durham as a teenager, Howard said that he was done moving around and opted to live with his grandmother.
He later joined the Marine Corps, serving from 2000 to 2004 before leaving and going to school for occupational therapy at Durham Technical Community College. He said he worked in the profession for about 15 years.
In 2015, Howard established Good Steward Apparel. Howard said that his journey was a calling – one not only driven by his outlook on society, but by a lifetime of experiences.
“Growing up, I always noticed how clothing was a great way of expressing who you are,” he said. “I remember going through donated clothes at a shelter trying to find something that would make me feel a little bit better about my situation.”
Howard's brand features three lines: Good Steward Apparel, Be Athletics Unlimited and No Robots. He said that each of these brings a different version of "counterculture" to the brand.
Jonas Richard, a tech professional for Good Steward Apparel and a business partner of Howard, likes the message that the brand delivers of supporting the community and the youth.
“(Howard) has a great vision, is passionate about what he’s doing and believes wholeheartedly in what he’s doing and why he’s doing it,” Richard said. “He has a why, and that makes a world of difference.”
Outreach and faith in the community
Howard said his Christian faith influenced many of the clothing designs and business decisions with Good Steward Apparel.
"Throughout all these experiences, God has been a steady voice in my life even though I didn't know it," Howard said.
Good Steward Apparel has donated to organizations like Love Is A Parable and the Victorious Praise Fellowship Church – the church Howard attends in Durham.
The brand also gives 10 percent of its earnings to Young Men 4 Christ, a local nonprofit mentorship program.
Howard added that the organization made reusable masks to donate to health care organizations at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve always had some type of organization that we’ve tried to partner with,” he said. "Giving back, bringing awareness — it’s been that way for the lifetime of our business."
Already, Howard’s message is beginning to have an impact on people.
Tiffany Eller, who also works at Carolina Outreach with Howard, and her 11-year-old son Silas Eller, both connected with the idea of the counterculture that Good Steward Apparel promotes.
“Silas felt like he could connect – like maybe he wasn’t so odd — and maybe odd was the new normal,” Tiffany Eller said. “It felt great to see my son feel empowered by this message.”
Silas Eller said that he believes the message of Howard’s brand tells people that it’s okay to be unique.
“If you are normal, it’s still not normal,” he said. “So no matter what you are, you fit in even if you don’t.”
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