Interviewer: Anthony Murdock II of Butler University
Interviewee: Mike Gillis of Indianapolis, IN
In life, you’re blessed to witness greatness from a distance. Whether it’s watching LeBron James glide across the television screen with his tremendous athletic ability and basketball IQ that sets him above his competitors. Or it might be watching the construction of a new skyscraper being built downtown, and every morning you go to work or school and you’re able to witness the progress of that building day-by-day. Or it might even be scrolling through your IG feed and watching that old best-friend from elementary school grow and achieve great things within their community and evolve into a true change agent and leader of the next generation.
But sometimes, life blesses you with the ability to see greatness up-close-and-personal. And that experience, my friends, is one that you must not take for granted, because opportunities like those are few and far between. A couple of weeks ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to sit down with the fashion icon, entrepreneur, culture-shifter, visionary–Mike G. Many of you have likely heard his name before, as his name and the positive impact he’s having on his community has spread across various kinds of conversation. For our interview, we touched on a lot but focused on how he learned to brand himself and what that brand has become.
Mike G is an East Chicago native who was “looking for an outlet”. He remembers back in high school, he and his peers would drive from East Chicago to the city of Chicago and visit boutiques, truly admiring a culture within a city that proclaimed, “It was cool to be you.” Growing up in Northwest Indiana, Mike G felt like it wasn’t always cool to be yourself, and this fresh breath of diversity and individuality within Chi-Town was inspirational. And from there, that’s where the culture started. He said, “We understood everybody wouldn’t get [what we were doing]. And that was cool, because everybody doesn’t have to understand, but we understood.” That’s important–Mike G and his peers had engaged a mentality of individuality, proud to be themselves no matter what limitations their environment sought to impose. MAJOR KEY.
Fast forward, Mike G graduates from high school and attends IUPUI, and triple majors!! I’m trying to tell y’all, bro took care of business. While at IUPUI, he was exposed to a new crowd of people, who had more resources than he did growing up and more opportunity. But that lack of resources and opportunity made him hungry to become better, grind and start manifesting that culture from high school amongst his peers, into a vision. While in college, he was worked alongside his uncle, who had a clothing boutique, and it allowed him access to resources and networks in Indianapolis that he didn’t have access to in the past. He mentioned several times throughout the interview and in other conversations we’ve had in the past that he appreciates the impact his uncle had on him. That’s important–he’s a person with a vision who doesn’t forget his roots. MAJOR KEY.
He graduates from college, starts in the corporate world, has access to a few more resources, has vision in the back of his mind, and a culture he is consistently pushing. So what’s next? The MERCH. Now many of you know about his famous “Kanye West For President” hats as they took social media and college campuses across Indianapolis by storm. He said in the interview, “Response was crazy, instantly. One person wanted a hat–two people wanted a hat–it just kept going.” And I can confirm this! I saw so many black folks on Butler’s campus rocking the hat, BLACK PEOPLE AT BUTLER, and so I knew something had to be going. And little do I know at that time, this man named Mike G had started a wave that was flowing across PWIs and uniting the minority in the name of culture and fashion. That’s important–he’s a person who made a #powermove that resulted in the unification of other people. MAJOR KEY.
And in this idea of unifying people, there were unintentional consequences that were produced. When he looks back on those “Kanye West For President” or “Divided States of America” hats, or his D.S.O.A. (Don’t Stop Over Achieving) Jackets, an element of “social consciousness”was added to the culture that he was creating. At the same time that he is producing all the merch, he is also going to coffee shops and restaurants across the city, and sees this disparity in racial diversity at these restaurants and coffee shops. And he reasons that folks like to stay in their bubble (sound familiar????) and not expose themselves to anything new, out of a fear of being uncomfortable. But Mike G stated that, “One thing college gave me was the ability to be myself and be uncomfortable.” He knew he could go out and expand his horizons, go to knew places where he might be the only person who looked like him in the entire venue. And in an effort to help folks “bust their bubble” (sounds so familiar!!!!) He started the Eat Good Live Better #EGLB that brought folks to these various shops and restaurants across the city to break down those barriers of uncomfortability–through food! That’s important–he’s a person who wasn’t scared to be courageous. MAJOR KEY.
And finally, we talked a lot about what was trying to do with all of this–the clothes, the coffee shop and restaurant visits, the social consciousness raising, etc. And he explained that he just wants to, “…bring folks together who wouldn’t otherwise be together.” And that’s folks from 56th and Georgetown to folks from 14th and Alabama to folks like him from East Chicago–all coming together in the name of culture, consciousness and camaraderie. Wrapping up the convo, I asked him if he had any advice for the POC reading the blog, and he said to find a job/internship that helps build YOU, not your resume. Do something that advances your dreams, helps you get to the place where you want to go in LIFE, not just the next step. And I think that’s powerful because it takes a lot to dig deep within yourself, realize what you want to become, commit to that and then act upon it. But that’s his advice and challenge to everyone. Be comfortable being YOU, build YOUR brand and do it in the name of OUR community. Make sure y’all support Mike G and his endeavors; he mentioned in the interview he has a LOT coming soon–so stay tuned! Be blessed my friends.