When we think of renowned Black tennis players, Venus and Serena Williams are usually top of mind, but it’s also important to acknowledge other notable players like Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, who came before and opened the doors. Ashe, the first Black man to win the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and a number of other history-making titles, was an inspiration on and off the court. Not only was he a top athlete, but he was also an activist for civil rights and numerous health-related initiatives. Through all of his impact, he was known to maintain a cool demeanor and impeccable style.
To commemorate Ashe, Jack Carlson, founder of Rowing Blazers, and Karl-Raphael Blanchard worked closely with Ashe’s widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, and the Arthur Ashe estate to create a new tennis lifestyle brand in his honor.
“A tennis lifestyle brand named ‘Arthur Ashe’ means the doors are open to more than just one community of people,” Blanchard tells ESSENCE. “A Black tennis icon showed us what it meant to be a champion in an otherwise predominantly white-dominated sport. This gives us the reminder to continue to break down barriers because so many will follow and be great!”
Blanchard, who lived in Forest Hills, NY (where Ashe first won the U.S. Open) for five years, feels like he’s always been tied to Ashe in various ways. “His style has always been on my mood board,” Blanchard adds. “Being part of telling his story with his estate has made me more keen to the impact Ashe had on so many communities.”
The debut collection merges Ashe’s clean-cut aesthetic and his more flashy ‘70s style to create a seamless combination of elegance and edginess. The first collection features a mix of athletic apparel and leisurewear for men and women – including tennis polos, shorts, skirts, sweats, tees, knitwear, and accessories.
In addition to offering a refreshing fashion assortment, the Arthur Ashe brand also has long-term philanthropic partnerships with the Arthur Ashe Legacy Fund at UCLA and with Social Change Fund United, which was created by NBA superstars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade to support critical and timely issues impacting the Black community. A portion of all the brand’s sales will go to these two organizations.
“As Brand Director, it’s more than just trying to make cool clothing, and I think brands should be built with that notion in mind,” Blanchard expresses. “I’m thinking more in the sense of community. Building and maintaining relationships with those receptive to what the mission is here at Arthur Ashe, which is to honor a legacy. Once that point comes across, then the rest will unfold nicely.”