A business was born out of Stevie Williams’ devotion to skateboarding.
Listed among Transworld Skateboarding’s “The 30 Most Influential Skaters of All Time,” Williams’ story reflects the success of an aspirant.
At the age of 12, the Philadelphia, PA, native stumbled upon a group of skaters outside his home. The action sport gave him an epiphany that day.
“It looked different than everything I’ve ever seen before, and once I tried it, it changed my perspective on everything,” Williams told AfroTech in an exclusive interview.
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In the 1990s, he could often be found skating with friends at John F. Kennedy Plaza, better known as LOVE Park. Though he began to make a name for himself in the area, Williams wasn’t always accepted. He shared that the phrase “dirty ghetto kids” was hurled at him and friends once by a prominent skater while at the park.
“Because of where I was from and the talent I had at a young age was so different than the older gatekeepers, they tried to keep my friends and I out of the spotlight, trying to stop us from being in magazines and videos that would help our career,” Williams explained. “The quote that started it was from one of the more famous skaters at the time saying to a photographer, ‘Don’t shoot them, they’re just dirty ghetto kids.’ For the first several years of my career, it always felt that way, people trying to stop my progress at all costs.”
The phrase, which was meant to discourage their passion, ultimately pushed Williams to surpass the expectations of naysayers.
In the midst of financial hardships, even facing homelessness, Williams’ skateboarding tricks caught the attention of the right parties. He would land his first two sponsors — DC Shoes and Chocolate Skateboards — after appearing in a 1999 Zoo York promotional video, Skateboarding Magazine reports.
Williams still envisioned more for himself and wanted to build his own legacy. According to Transworld Skateboarding, he was looking to create a skateboard company that honored his original skate crew.
At the age of 22, the brand DGK was born, The Wall Street Journal reports. The venture started as a partnership with Troy Morgan where they created distribution company Kayo Corp., per Transworld Skateboarding.
“When I had a chance to start a company, I wanted to call it ‘Dirty Ghetto Kids,’ trying to take a rude and slightly racist statement and not letting it define my friends and myself,” Williams told AfroTech. “I wanted all the kids out there that are going through adversity and struggle to know that there’s someone out there that sees them and knows what they’re going through. DGK is for them, taking a negative and turning it to a positive.”
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After 20 years, DGK has established itself as a credible streetwear brand loved by celebrities such as Lebron James. Williams is proving to kids who came from humble beginnings, the dream is possible.
Despite all the success, Williams makes it clear his brand has remained authentic by chasing purpose over money. It explains why DGK teamed up with the late Virgil Abloh in 2020. Hypebeast reports the pair partnered to release 100 limited edition camouflaged skateboards. Virgil, a tastemaker in fashion who passed away in 2021, understood DGK’s vision and wanted to support the “underdog” in the skateboard and apparel space.
“Virgil always saw eye to eye with me and with what I was doing with DGK,” Williams shared with AfroTech. “He told me he connected with our movement from the start because nobody else was looking at it through our lenses. To see the heights Virgil took his designing and creative vision was inspiring, but the biggest lesson was he always was looking out for the underdog. He wanted everyone out there to know if he could do it, so could you. Still honored that DGK was one of the few brands Virgil lent his name to. I will always hold that close to my heart. One of the most important lessons he said before his death was ‘always control the narrative.'”
Abloh’s advice was one of the many lessons Williams has experienced running the brand. His entrepreneurial journey has included both highs and lows, with budgets and assembling a team being two of his greater obstacles.
“Huge learning curves when it comes to what you want to do and what you can do at certain times,” Williams reflected. “Budgets, peoples expectations, up years and down years; running a business is never easy, and DGK is no exception. For me, the biggest one was making sure that I established a proper team, internally and externally, that can make sure the company is moving no matter what circumstance comes up.”
The true challenge of any founder is how they respond in the face of adversity. The Philly-skateboarder-turned-entrepreneur sees greener grass on the other side after growing his consumer base despite previous challenges.
“We’ve been able to keep the fanbase and expand it bigger each year because we value culture first and foremost,” Williams said.