CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — When they are not out on missions, two Army Reserve Soldiers deployed here are busy creating their own legend.
Spc. Nigel N. Fogle and Spc. Robert Reese Jr. serve as motor transport operators with the Salisbury, North Carolina, based 846th Transportation Company. The company works under the direction of the 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, completing logistics operations within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
In early 2022 the specialists launched a clothing line to create a new revenue stream and to express artistic talent.
Fogle and Reese said their desire to create a brand goes much deeper than materialism and creativity, however; they want to serve as leaders in the Black community and demonstrate that Black-owned and operated businesses can be successful.
Most importantly though, the Soldiers want their clothing line to challenge externally- and internally-imposed stereotypes surrounding contemporary American Black identity.
Lack of Black representation
Fogle, 22, grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. He picked up digital drawing after he graduated from high school.
“I consider myself kind of a late starter because I see some of these kids, they’ll be like 16 and 18 out there drawing way better than I do,” Fogle said. “I try not to focus too much on that because art is supposed to be expressive; it’s all relative to you, not to where everybody else is at.”
Fogle’s biggest inspiration for his art comes from anime, a style of Japanese animation. His artistic prowess was known to Reese and other Soldiers in the company.
Reese, 25, grew up in Gary, Indiana. Prior to the deployment he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance. The specialist said he had originally planned on using his free time between missions to launch a business selling custom durags online.
“I was looking for an artist to come up with a design, so I reached out to Fogle because I knew he did a lot of creative artwork, and I liked what I saw,” Reese said. “We just started talking more about our love for the anime culture and lack of Black representation, and Fogle told me he always wanted to start a clothing brand.”
Reese, too, had thought about developing a clothing brand. He ultimately shifted gears and teamed up with Fogle in November of 2021 so they could help one another accomplish their shared dream.
Reese said the main arm of their clothing line is Japanese-style street wear, but they are also designing regular sports wear and apparel.
“I’ve been watching Anime on and off for the past five years and like with every single show that I watch, no one—no one—is of my skin tone,” Fogle said. “It’s just kind of frustrating because sometimes you want to be able to relate to these characters and you just can’t because you’re not that same color so you can’t really share or imagine sharing the same experiences.”
Reese echoed Fogle’s frustration.
“In TV shows, the way they represent characters is more of Caucasian and fairer-skinned individuals, which is weird to me because I would say who I’ve come across and interacted with, there’s been more people with darker skin, you know Black complexion, who are more interested in anime,” Reese said. “We have a stronger preference for it but yeah, we’re not seeing a representation there so we thought that’d be a great way to target that specific audience.”
Fogle said he sees a lot more diversity in Western media but does not understand why it has not broken into the anime industry.
“I want to try to change that,” Fogle said.
“With our main line, the designs aren’t just designs, they have meaning behind them, they have some sort of lore behind them,” Fogle continued, pointing to the design on the back of a long sleeve T-shirt. “Like this design right here, this is actually one of our original characters, this is a main protagonist.”
Fogle said they’re currently designing some new characters--a set of twins--in honor of Black History Month. Just as with the other characters they have created, the Soldier said he and Reese create stories behind each character they design. They said they hope the “Tsunami world” they create will sprout off of the clothing brand in the future to become its own version of anime-inspired comics or programs.
Reese said besides developing a more inclusive brand, his other goal was for the brand to be environmentally friendly.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the second [leading type] of products that are damaging the earth come from the fashion industry and the waste that it creates,” Reese said. “It’s very important for me to create sustainable clothing whereas we can use it in a circular motion instead of just wasting it, so it can go back to the environment.
“I would say 90 percent of our products are environmentally friendly, are recyclable, and have naturally-made materials,” Reese continued.
Smashing the archetype
Fogle and Reese said they want to challenge a lot of stereotypes they’ve found themselves up against throughout their lives.
“I’ve at times been referred to as like an Oreo, Black on the outside, white on the inside,” Fogle said. “That’s one thing that I struggled with mentally a long time ago.
“I don’t know why, a lot of times I would feel less Black than other Black people, and that’s not good, Fogle continued. “If you’re Black, you’re Black.”
Reese said he went to a predominantly white university, and that did not bother him except for the fact that his classmates often assumed he liked and was good at basketball.
“I, myself, felt like I had to close off my Blackness or my identity just to show that I’m not that stereotype,” Reese said. “When you have those certain archetypes and those certain identities placed upon you, you want to be seen for who you actually are and not what society wants you to be.
“And sometimes it comes from our own people,” Reese continued. “I feel like if you’re not doing this, if you’re not wearing Jordans , if you’re not wearing the latest designer clothes, then you’re not this type of Black—I just think that’s so damaging to our community.”
“We need to be standing together,” Fogle said. “What are we [doing], gate-keeping Blackness?”
Reese said playing into the stereotypes doesn’t promote growth or diversity of interests within the Black community. To some people, the Soldiers added, even the concept of a Black person starting a business is viewed as odd because it’s often seen as a white pursuit.
“I think it’s important to me to show that there’s different avenues, there’s different ways for you to become successful and to get financial wealth and to break generational curses,” Reese said. “You don’t have to have to rely on that old trope of how Black people have been traditionally successful.”
“Being Black-owned and being Black-operated shows people that they can do anything that they set their minds to, and it shows them that they can succeed as well,” Fogle said. “Black success is very important, because not only will that help now, but that will help in future generations; it will set you and your family up to be financially stable for years.”
Fogle and Reese said they have faith they will accomplish all of their goals.
“We all have our own personal legend, we all have our own purpose in this world that we’re meant to seek out and do,” Reese said. “Find your passion, find what you love, and life will be a lot more simpler and you’ll be a lot more happy.”
“I’ve never felt like this towards anything else, but with this I’ve felt like this is what I was built for,” Fogle said. “I felt like if God put me on this earth to do anything, it was to make this brand and to make it succeed.”