By Elliott Sayles
In July 2015, I was working as a vendor at the Essence Music Fest in New Orleans selling products for a former business venture. The sales potential seemed promising with over a half million people in attendance. The products had gotten a great response online and from universities across the country. I thought the Essence Music Fest would be the perfect venue to set up shop. I had high expectations of selling out and I just knew they’d blow up soon after the event.
After three days of lackluster sales and expenses that put me in the red, I set out on the long five-hour drive back home. The serene road trip gave me a chance to think about where I went wrong and what I could’ve done better. It was a big disappointment. I licked my wounds and made the tough decision to put the business on ice. I couldn’t foresee putting any more money into it.
In the meantime, there was another idea in the back of my mind that I had been playing with. It was an idea birthed from Memphis culture and our unique dialect. I would create products that defined how Memphians say the word “MAN” pronounced “MANE”. Memphians use this word to express a large range of emotions and to be festive and playful. Memphians may not realize that we are known across the country for our usage of this word (ex: the movie “Hustle and Flow”). It’s one way that outsiders distinctively identify Memphians.
While on the road I made a call and got the ball rolling on the “MANE” project. My former business forced me to confront and admit two things: 1) I did fail at my expectations in New Orleans and 2) I was resilient in the fact that I didn’t internalize that failure and shrink. I moved forward with this project in the midst of falling on my face.
By the end of August, a dozen variations of shirts had been printed exactly how I envisioned them. I posted a picture on Facebook and people started to respond and questions began to circulate about how they could buy them. Every day more and more people were sharing pictures via social media and messaging me to inquire about purchasing. The amazing part was that there were just as many people who no longer lived in Memphis buying the MANE T-shirts, as there were locals.
That’s when I realized that I needed a website. It also needed to be protected under a trademark. As a proud Memphian, I wanted to take complete ownership of this word. I wasn’t familiar with how the trademark process worked. I also didn’t know anyone who had trademarked anything in the past but I didn’t let that hold me back.
During my research, I came across a workshop being held at the Renaissance Center in Downtown Memphis that connected business owners with resources. When I arrived the room was packed with people eager to discover the same information for whatever personal or business project they were working on. You could feel the entrepreneurial energy in the air.
There was a law firm in attendance that specialized in patents, trademarks, and copyrights. It was informative and helpful and just what I needed at the time. Once the workshop was over, I felt a little closer to my goals.
By October, I had created the website manetshirts.com to help streamline the orders that were coming in. It was exciting but I was concerned because the shirts were getting exposure and had not yet been legally protected. The letters “TM” were printed on the T-shirts as a step towards legally protecting my work.
A friend told me about another workshop specifically about trademarks being held at the Benjamin Hooks Library. I attended the workshop on a Thursday afternoon and could feel the same hopeful energy. I felt more equipped and informed from the previous workshop along with the research I had done on my own.
After the workshop was over I knew exactly what classification(s) I wanted to file MANE under. A classification is a category in the business space(s) you’ll be looking to operate your intellectual property in. For example, Michael Buffer registered his trademark “Let’s Get Ready To Ruuuuuumble” under classification #35 (advertising business management administration office functions). Each class you seek protection under has the current cost of $275 + the application fee of $275 not including attorney’s costs.
I met with the attorney after the presentation and got his business card. That Monday morning in October I met with him to move forward with my plans to file for protection for MANE. It is now a federally registered trademark.
While doing research about my product I came to the realization that the African-American community produces a lot of tangible and intangible things that take off in mainstream culture. Many of those circulate in our community for years as everyday catchphrases, quotes, jokes, and images. However, we consider it as part of our culture so we dismiss it.
According to the African-American Consumer 2013 Report by The Nielsen Company, 73 percent of whites and 67 percent of Hispanics believe Blacks influence mainstream culture. Many things that Black people create permeate into popular mainstream culture. But what if we put a value on everything we produced by putting a business framework around them? What if there was a gatekeeper in the Black community that had such things protected by a copyright or trademark before it hit mainstream media?
How much further could we move the needle in our community economically?
I’m sharing my story about the success of acquiring my trademark on MANE because it is an example of what we can do when we leverage our culture and the essence of who we are. Our community is beginning to understand how vital entrepreneurship is to generational wealth. This isn’t about reinventing the wheel or curing cancer. It is about placing value on our culture and recognizing how powerful and influential it has proven to be time and time again.
Once we accept that uniqueness as our strength we’ll advance economically. Our society now moves at lightening speed thanks to the advancement of technology. You never know what opportunity will present itself. It could be a niche idea to use in corporate marketing campaign or a blockbuster Hollywood production. Intellectual property can be used in a myriad of ways that generate income. It can also be passed down to the next generation to retain ownership.
The options are limitless but it’s up to us to think outside the box, take ownership and move our economy forward to affect generations to come.