“Being an entrepreneur can be frustrating and time-consuming, of course. Patience is key.” – Johnnie Lovett, USA
Johnnie Lovett is serious about business….and the business of helping others. Known professionally as Johnnie Fresh (@JohnnieFresh), he works with his two partners running an up-and-coming streetwear fashion company, Fresh Connection Brand, which has a vital marketing partnership with NBA superstar Dwayne Wade. Johnnie also works full time as an assistant account planner at Commonground Marketing in Chicago and is involved in Innovate for Good, a Microsoft YouthSpark community that motivates young people to work together and use technology to improve their communities.
The 24-year-old Chicago native credits much of his success to Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a Microsoft-funded high school program that inspires youth from low-income areas to stay in school, identify career opportunities, and focus on their futures. Through NFTE, Johnnie learned how to create a successful business plan. The program also taught him motivation skills that he now uses to inspire his colleagues at Innovate for Good events.
“I’ve managed to find a balance between what I do in the corporate world and what I do with my business. There are synergies there,” says Johnnie. “And that’s the message I give to kids who we talk to everyday. You have interesting things that you’re passionate about. There’s a way you can leverage those things to grow your career.”
Johnnie grew up on Chicago’s tough South Side, which has one of the city’s highest homicide rates, and credits his parents with spurring his interest in entrepreneurship.
“For a time, my dad was a business owner, an entrepreneur, so it was something that had always interested me,” he says.
Being an entrepreneur can be frustrating and time-consuming, of course. Patience is key, and Johnnie learned this attribute the hard way while working as a shopping cart collector in high school.
“It was my first job,” he says. “It was humbling and it taught me patience. You’re pushing carts—rain, sleet, or snow—you’re out there. You’ve got a job to do, and you’re making minimum wage.”
Johnnie is an entrepreneur, designer and Chicago native. Only 24 years old, Johnnie started his own fashion line called Fresh Connection Brand.
In 2006, his junior year at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, Johnnie decided to sharpen his entrepreneurial focus by taking the NFTE course at his school.
“The class was very popular, but some of my close friends were skipping it,” he recalls with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘Hey, guys, let’s go to class.’ And they said, ‘No, that’s the seventh and eighth period class and we’re gonna skip.’ But I decided to stay.”
From the start, Johnnie excelled in NFTE. He and his friend Christopher Houston launched StayFreshOnline.com, a digital magazine that promoted fashion-related businesses with email, text messaging, and web access. Their online publication won 1st place in the 2007 NFTE Chicago Citywide Business Plan Competition.
After graduating from high school, Johnnie passed up several basketball scholarships to study public relations at Illinois State.
“My parents weren’t really advocates for me going to play basketball because it wouldn’t have been at the Division I level,” he says. “The pathway wasn’t as promising as just going and getting an education.”
In 2010, Johnnie teamed up with two new business partners, Joshua Gadson and Kenny Kinder, to launch Fresh Connection Brand (FCB), a streetwear clothing line that reflects “stuff we have a passion for,” says Johnnie.
An electrical socket logo appears on many FCB shirts, pants, and hoodies. It’s an emblem with deep significance to the company’s founders.
“It’s a fresh connection, where you’re connected to all things fresh,” Johnnie says of the design. “When you plug into a socket of anything, you’re looking for that power, and we want to empower people through our clothing.”
Innovate for Good is a Microsoft YouthSpark community that motivates young people to work together and use technology to improve their communities.
FCB’s management team soon showed its business savvy by partnering with the Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wade, one of the NBA’s biggest stars.
So how’d that come about? “My business partner Kenny Kender has a relationship with Dwayne Wade, a connection to his family,” says Johnnie.
A family connection is one thing, but a business partnership must be mutually beneficial. Wade, who grew up in Chicago, liked the fact that FCB’s team was based in his hometown, and that they were eager to work with his Wade’s World Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes education for school children and youth.
In 2012, Wade asked FCB to design a t-shirt based on a slogan he coined: “Team No Sleep.” After the Heat won the league title that year, Wade and his entourage wore FCB’s Team No Sleep shirts at the NBA Championship celebration at LIV Nightclub in Miami Beach.
“We had no idea he was going to wear it the day they won a championship,” says Johnnie. “It went worldwide overnight.”
“We’re so excited for Johnnie. He’s so passionate, bright, and focused,” says Adithi Chandrashekar, Development Associate at NFTE’s Chicago office. “He’s a great example of how entrepreneurship can take a young person who doesn’t know what kind of thumbprint they’re going to leave on the world, and help them focus on how to make their dream a reality.”
Maintaining a strong connection with his roots is important to Johnnie, who’s happy to give back to his community.
“I still live in Roseland in Chicago, which is one of the roughest neighborhoods in the country,” he says. “We know the huge issue that Chicago has faced as a city with violence and things like that. We’re still very much entrenched in those things, so it’s an easier connection to the kids who are living through it every day. We say, ‘Hey, we’re doing work with Dwayne Wade and all these amazing people, but you guys can easily be doing this as well.'”