At 20 years old, Carlo Francisco is defining the perfect balance of hard work and doing what you love.

When he’s not attending Columbia College of Chicago for Music Business during the school year, he’s back home in Cleveland making societal and political statements with his art. His clothing brand, People of Color, doesn’t consist of much color, but it does send a message that there are in fact issues that are plaguing the environment around us.

Tell me about the vision you had when creating and designing this collection.

The brand started as a reaction to American race issues that I would see on the news. The clothes are an expression of my social commentary as an Asian-American on issues like Ferguson and the shooting of Tamir Rice. The messages on the garments also touch on topics like depression and the readiness for society to abandon those with mental illness when it’s not convenient for them. My wardrobe doesn’t consist of too much color and I only create things I’d personally wear so that’s why everything’s in black and white. I stuck with very basic designs like faces and quotes that can say a lot by not saying much at all.

How did you come up with the name People of Color? Do you think that people will be hesitant to wear something with a name like that attached to it?

The name, People of Color, came naturally. The clothes came first and the name last, so it just made sense to name the brand that. POC rolled off the tongue nicely and fit the image I wanted to portray. If somebody finds the name offensive or if makes them uncomfortable enough to be hesitant to wear it, then it’s just not for them. It’s as simple as that. Nobody’s being forced to like my work. I made all of this for myself. If somebody sees value in my art and purchases it, then I’m grateful that someone could interpret it into something meaningful to them.

How important is timing and making sure things are executed the right way when it comes to building a brand?

Timing and patience are essential. Making sure everything is packaged and presented correctly is very important. When I first started creating—whenever I finished something—I immediately wanted it to be put out in the world. There was no fine tuning or tweaking. I just threw it out there and hoped for the best. After lots of trial and error, I learned that success doesn’t come immediately like you see on social media. I think that’s the problem with a lot of people, including me. They see so many people being successful at such a young age on the internet and they freak out when it doesn’t happen the same way for them. It takes years to blow up overnight.

Was there any advice or gems of knowledge that you were told or that you read that really keeps you motivated and focused?

I can’t think of any specific advice that really stuck with me, but one of the things that keeps me motivated and focused is surrounding myself with like-minded people. When I first started doing clothes, I had this mentality of “It’s going to be me and only me. I’m going to do everything by myself and make it to the top with no help.” After meeting up with other people in the same field, I found out it’s okay to ask for help. I actually enjoy asking my peers for their different opinions and ideas. I think it’s very important to have multiple perspectives. Seeing other people being passionate and work towards something they really want is infectious. Surround yourself with determined people that possess positive energy and it will help you tremendously. It’s fine to work by yourself sometimes, but collaboration is where the big ideas come together.

More and more brands are popping up in Cleveland with the intent to profit off the city’s sport success, and yet, People of Color isn’t. Are you trying to restore a sense of originality back into Cleveland?

I love Cleveland and I love Cleveland sports. I’m a huge Cavs fan, but I could never make anything off the back off the city’s success regarding sports. It’s just not me. It works for some people, but it’s a trend I don’t plan on following. I want to be timeless. I want my stuff to be wearable 10-20 years from now. In my opinion, being timeless is real value. Being able to leave your stamp on this earth when you go shows your true worth. Again, I love Cleveland, but I don’t do this for the city. I do this for myself.

What’s the next step for you and your brand? Is there anything you want the readers to know about where and when to be expecting this collection?

I released my new collection in late August before I relocated to Chicago for school. It’s smaller, but 100 times better than the first one. I also plan on expanding POC into other forms of art as well. I’ll probably make some furniture or canvas prints in the near future.

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