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Two young men find commonality in each other; helping fuel their individual dreams

Ahki Lorraine
Ahki Lorraine

Many people are plunging into entrepreneurship during this pandemic. Two young northern Illinois business owners share how the world’s unexpected nosedive helped them soar.

Elburn resident Damion Curry works for the multi-media companyWeSixThirty, in Aurora. He also has his own clothing brand called Rekluse. Curry said he knew he wanted to own his own business when he was a child.

“I started off doing my own dog-walking business around the neighborhood, started making decent money out of that,” he said. “And then I had a few other ventures, you know, with friends and stuff like that, that just fell through.”

He’s 21 years old now and admits that the pandemic was the torch that kept his entrepreneurial flame alive.

“COVID really made me confront the inner insecurities and demons that I had within me and to really see like, which way I was going to take those on -- in order to make myself happier within my life," he said.

The original name for his company was called “Humans are Disposable.” He said this reminded him to leave negative energy behind and to not to buckle under pressure, but last year he decided to take the company into a different direction. He changed the name as a part of his rebranding.

Aurora native Ahki Lorraine also has his own clothing line called JazzJunkies. He said growing up, his mother and grandmother dressed him in the finest threads, and this is where his love connection with fashion came from.
The 24-year-old said he grappled with the idea of having his own business in 2015 but he didn’t act on it. He said that’s when the name of the company came to him. For him, jazz represents something smooth and relaxing.

“And then junkies actually came to me probably like a week or two after,” he explained. “I don't know why it was such a struggle coming up with that second piece, but when I thought of junkies — a junkie to me as someone who loves something, who's obsessed with something. So, I'm like, 'I'm a smooth individual, you know, who loves fashion.' So, I just put it together, like JazzJunkies.”

He said forced isolation made him reevaluate his life and he started to question his decision to work in retail.

“I was there actually just trying to think like, 'what's going to be next for me?'" he asked. " It really, honestly took the pandemic for me to really start piecing some of the puzzle pieces together.”

Lorraine wasn’t sure where to start, so he browsed YouTube for inspiration.

“Watching and learning from different brands,” he said. “I'm reading different books as well, different designer books and kind of learning their process, seeing what they went through and kind of comparing [it] to what I went through as well.”

One book that stood out to him is by author and fashion designer Bobby Hundreds: “This is not a T-Shirt: A Brand, a Culture, a Community – a Life in Streetwear.”

“He was kind of like a mentor,” Lorraine expressed. “I'm reading, I'm looking at what he went through and kind of looking at, like I said, what I went through -- I'm just like, ‘man, this guy's actually like -- he's pretty interesting.’”

Lorraine said he met Curry through a mutual friend and that this relationship fuels both business owners. Curry said it’s hard to find someone in the business that he can trust.

“So, meeting up with Ahki, I definitely felt just like that mutual energy between us to where, you know, I can talk about different things,” he explained. “I didn't feel like he was going to steal my work, or I didn't feel like he was going to slight me in front of other people.”

In addition to this support, both designers credit their parents for their success.

Lorraine said before anyone jumps into the pool of entrepreneurship, they need to spend time researching similar businesses and should connect with successful business owners.

But that’s no guarantee of success. Even so, Curry said, young aspiring entrepreneurs should keep fighting for their dreams.

“Everything in life is temporary,” he said. “So even if you push forward and you fail, you always got to take what you learned out of that whole situation and make yourself better.”

For both Curry and Lorraine, those are words to live by, as they pursue their dreams of success.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.