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‘It All Happened Really Fast’: College Grad Turns Her Love for HBCUs into a Clothing Line Now Being Sold In Department Stores

Norfolk State University alumna Ashley Jones went from selling shirts out of her book bag to refilling clothing line orders for department stores’ stock.

Jones’ line, Tones of Melanin, is a collegiate streetwear brand that represents the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities.

Ashley Jones is the founder and CEO of Tones of Melanin. (YouTube/Tones of Melanin)

“When I went into my bookstore, I didn’t really see anything that represented my population. I really want to highlight the HBCU culture,” Jones told station WTOP.

Jones’ relationship with design goes back to when she was 13 years old. She started out creating My Space pages for other people. By 17, she became the “flyer girl,” designing graphics for local promoters to push their events. She started the clothing line in 2015 while at the Virginia HBCU.

“I started designing more and more for different organizations. With that, I seen that there are not a lot of variety when it comes to HBCU apparel,” she said. “So, I saw the need and decided to create Tones of Melanin.”

Now HBCUs graduates and students can find high-quality shorts, sweaters, T-Shirts, jerseys and joggers in their school colors and branding in Belk department stores, HBCU bookstores and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“It all happened really fast. I’m hoping to get more stores in the years to come,” said Jones. “I feel like we have our own community, and I’m making that bigger for the world to see.”

Jones believes she got a boost from the racial awakening that followed the summer protests over the police killing of George Floyd. There was a movement to support and fund Black businesses in the wake of the international civil unrest. HBCUs also saw an increase in enrollment because of the social shift. She said 18 percent to 20 percent of the profit goes back to the schools.

“I’m hoping this isn’t just a fad. I’m hoping it’s a permanent thing. We’re adequately trained and the education is top-notch,” she said.

Tones of Melanin uses HBCU students as brand ambassadors. (Instagram/Tones of Melanin)

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