Could you introduce yourself?
I’m JC Smith. I am one of the co-owners of Bailiwick Clothing Company.
Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from Kent, Ohio.
What made you decide to be an entrepreneur?
I’ve always had it in my blood. My grandparents were entrepreneurs. And from an early age, I realized that you can work for someone and it’s good. But then you can do great and get some empowerment and some financial freedom by working for yourself.
When did you start Bailiwick?
Six years ago.
How do you come up with the idea for your business?
I’ve been in DC for about 14 years. When I first got to DC, I couldn’t find T-shirts and clothes that I liked that represented DC that weren’t for the sports teams. This DC pride thing is about 8–10 years old. You’ve seen this big groundswell of DC pride, but when I got here in ’08/’09, it wasn’t really there. You didn’t see all these different companies where you can buy T-shirts, mugs, greeting cards. That’s what really put the spark into my mind, that I can come up with some shirts, like “the District” and the other things that we make.
What is your company’s mission?
The mission is to create DC pride and spread positivity around DC and the DMV through our clothes, our designs, and things that inspire us. We hope to create images and designs that inspire the rest of the folks in DC to do and be their best.
Where did you get the name Bailiwick from?
The definition of “bailiwick” is a person’s area of expertise. It’s all about doing what you love and doing what you’re good at. And so we say that making T-shirts and clothes is our bailiwick.
We try to inspire people around DC and the DMV to do what they’re good at and what they love, and that’s to follow their passion and pursue their bailiwick.
What makes your products unique?
We use high-quality materials. So they’re really soft—the kind of shirts you’re going to want to wear over and over. They wash well; they look good. We try to make designs that you see around the city throughout your daily life. We try to incorporate hidden messages, symbols, and things that are symbolic of DC. So those two things: making high-quality products that have messages that resonate with our DC audience.
Could you describe your company’s success? Is there a pivotal moment?
We’ve had celebrities like Bryce Harper (baseball player), Regina Hall (actress), Dave Grohl (musician), and more who gave our company viral moments. The biggest thing for us was 2020; after Kamala Harris was voted Vice President, we made a shirt, the Madam Vice President t-shirt. And she got one of those on Small Business Saturday and posted a picture with it and it went viral. We sold Madam Vice President shirts to all 50 states. And probably seven or eight different countries around the globe were buying the shirts. It was pretty amazing.
Do you have a physical location?
Not currently; we’ve done a few pop-ups through the years. The goal is to get to a pop-up shop that we can hopefully transition to something longer retail.
How does your business help your community or neighborhood?
We’ve done a number of shirts in the past, where we’ve donated proceeds to different organizations. We’ve done some of our pride shirts, and we’ve donated money to the Capital Pride Alliance. We’ve done shirts where we’ve donated to statehood causes. We’ve worked with some organizations to donate money to projects that help single mothers and to find missing girls in DC.
We’ve always been really focused on trying to do things that help the community, trying to work with DC residents and DC suppliers. We try to keep money revolving in DC and in the Black community.
What’s a fun fact about your business?
We have like 18 or 20 different hats right now and a couple in production. It’s crazy.
How would you define your business in three words?
Resilient. Aspirational. Accessible.
What would you recommend that people buy from your store?
Right now, hoodies. They’re going to be the softest hoodies I think you’ve ever tried. They’re in season. We’ve got a bunch of different styles.
What’s your favorite holiday?
Thanksgiving is just a time to come together and have some great memories, like cooking with my mom and grandmother. I’m more of a turkey guy, too.
What’s the best thing a customer has ever said to you?
An older lady sent some great pictures to us and said it was the culmination of a lifetime to watch the inauguration with her Madame Vice President T-shirt and mug that was made by a Black-owned company. It was something that she’d always remember. So that was just really, really, really sweet for us.