‘Not just a sneaker shop’: BAU-HŌUSE partners with a Detroit HBCU to bring design education to Flint

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‘Not just a sneaker shop’: BAU-HŌUSE partners with a Detroit HBCU to bring design education to Flint

Flint, MI — A little more than one year into operations, the duo behind BAU-HŌUSE is making good on their promise to bring design education opportunities to Flint.

“I’ve been telling folks we’re not just a sneaker shop,” laughed Lee Allen Jr., co-founder and CEO of BAU-HŌUSE, which began as an art and streetwear pop-up location before transitioning in June 2022 to the apparel store, gallery and creative space it’s known as today.

Ever since, Allen explained, he and co-founder Antonio Forte have been looking for ways to bring fashion education to their hometown, and now the pair have confirmed a partnership with Detroit’s Pensole Lewis College (PLC) to do just that.

“The discussion of becoming a community partner began about a month and a half ago through the power of social media!” Nikki Taylor, the college’s marketing and communications manager explained via email. “Lee commented on a post on our (PLC’s) Instagram page. He asked how BAU-HŌUSE could be a partner and also work to provide design education opportunities to Flint students. Once I did some research and learned about the goal and vision of BAU-HŌUSE, I reached out to him via DM.”

Cofounders Lee Grant Allen, Jr. (right) and Antonio Forte (left) look into BAU-HŌUSE, their clothing business in downtown Flint, Mich., on Friday, June 30, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

PLC is a recently reinstated HBCU that specializes in product creation.

Founded in 1928 as Lewis College of Business, the college was originally created to train Black women secretaries in the midwest, but a decline in enrollment and the loss of its accreditation in 2007 led to its closure in 2015.

However, PLC was revitalized over the past few years through the efforts of Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, who has spent more than three decades in the footwear industry with brands like L.A. Gear, Nike and Jordan. 

“The purpose of pursuing this partnership, to quote Dr. D’Wayne Edwards,” Taylor wrote, “is to create the school I wish I was able to attend as a high school kid, and it’s the school I wish I could have hired from as a hiring manager in the industry.”

Taylor added that the introduction of PLC through community partners like BAU-HŌUSE will be the first time many students realize they can have a career in footwear design “with a direct path into the industry.”

For others, she said, it is the introduction of new talent that is needed to diversify the industry, and it will provide folks in Flint, “new, accessible, non-traditional pathways into design education.”

Looking ahead by looking back 

Allen and Forte were all smiles during an interview to discuss the upcoming educational opportunities.

“This partnership is cool because this solidifies one of our main objectives for the store, which was the education piece,” Allen said. “Because right now in the city… we don’t have any institution that residents can go to that offers classes in apparel or sneaker design.”

While both the BAU-HOUSE founders and PLC noted the partnership’s finer details are still being sorted out, Taylor shared “it will look like progress.”

“It will introduce PLC, explain what we are, how we work and most importantly, how to prepare to apply,” she wrote. “We see this working for designer hopefuls in Flint by way of some of the worlds best design talent being only an hour away in Detroit. You don’t have to travel far to have access to what you’ll need to become a designer.”

Allen and Forte added that they anticipate PLC’s introduction event at their location in Flint to happen next month.

Cofounder Antonio Forte looks out into Buckham Alley from the window in BAU-HOUSE, his clothing business in downtown Flint, Mich., on Friday, June 30, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

As for Forte, whose work as BAU-HŌUSE’s CFO started remotely as his logistics job took him to California and Alabama, he said he’s “floored” by how much Allen has grown the education component of their vision in such a short time.

“This has always been in the works,” Forte said. “And now literally two years, but officially with the doors being open one year … things are starting to really come full circle to fruition.”

Both founders said they hope the new programming will give young people like themselves, Flint kids with big dreams, a leg up in the competitive space of fashion and sneaker design.

“One thing I noticed… when you’re trying to work for Nike, Adidas or any other design institution, a lot of candidates already have design experience,” Allen said. “And if you’re in Flint, in Genesee County, where do you go to get any type of experience?”

Cofounder Lee Grant Allen, Jr. poses for a portrait in front of a quote by the late GoodBoy Clothing founder Oaklin Mixon in BAU-HŌUSE, Allen’s clothing business in downtown Flint, Mich., on Friday, June 30, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

Forte added that he also believes such design education programming can be repeated for other cities like Flint — those that have a lot of design talent and vision but no formal channels in which to pursue it. 

“Our hope is that nationwide, this thing will end up growing… to where we can provide these programs for other areas like ours throughout the country—to really drive this culture, to drive this change,” Forte said.

For now though, the pair is proud of their two years of growth and thankful for the Flint talent they’ve been able to showcase and sell along the way, shouting out brands like See No Evil, Soulmate Apparel and GoodBoy, a brand and workspace they inherited from the late Oaklin Mixon.

“The GoodBoy space is a collaborative space,” Allen said of the former store above BAU-HŌUSE’s downtown Flint location. “We turned that space into a workshop, so we use it for a creative hub for people who want to come in and just work on certain things, cut and sew stuff, screen printing, heat press, and then we do art exhibits.”

Aside from their more formalized programming, Allen and Forte also regularly invite creatives to panel discussions and networking, showcase artists during Flint’s Artwalk events, and host local youth organizations to discuss the business of fashion and design.

“Our whole mindset was if you’re a creator, you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a photographer, you’re a designer — whatever the case may be — and you’re trying to make a positive impact on the Flint community: come in. Let’s build something together. Let’s move our city forward,” Allen said of what he and Forte have been fostering since BAU-HŌUSE opened. “The collaboration piece? That’s the beauty of it.”

More details of BAU-HOUSE’s partnership with Pensole Lewis College will be made available in the coming weeks on the store’s website and social media, Allen said.