In October of last year, rapper 2 Chainz announced he would invest in HBCU students and alumni’s entrepreneurial endeavors through the Money Maker Fund. Two months later, in partnership with #YoutubeBlack's Voice Fund, he gifted five finalists a total of $55,000.
“So I applied and didn't think anything of it,” said Edison Konan, one of the finalists. “His manager reached out to me via email and after figuring out my availability, I was sent a Zoom link and joined 2 Chainz on the call.”
The nearly one-hour conversation reassured Konan that what he wholeheartedly believes in can be just as big as he imagined. “2 Chainz saw my business and loved it. So what does that mean for the billions of people that haven’t seen it yet? They’ll likely have the same reaction,” shared the 23-year-old.
The fund is named after 2 Chainz’s August single of the same name which features Lil Wayne. The track samples Southern University’s Human Jukebox and pays homage to other HBCUs with special shoutouts to Alabama State, Tennessee State, Jackson State and Florida A&M University which Konan is an alumnus of.
He graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s in fashion. Konan recently quit his job as a pharmacy technician to pursue entrepreneurship full-time. The Detroit resident creates “emotional comfort wear” through iworemyheartonmysleeves (iwmhoms).
“The clothes are centered around people’s emotions. Say you lack confidence, there will be a piece of clothing which acts as a reminder to be confident,” Konan said.
iwmhoms is the FAMU alumnus’ approach to promoting mental health awareness and comforting the lives of others. At 15, his sister suffered from bulimia and depression and he has since become a mental health advocate. "I know [mental illness] is real because my sister went through it,” exclaimed Konan. ”This is something I truly stand for.”
Eventually, Konan’s sister received the help she needed. As an older brother, he feels obligated to his sister and the youth to reduce the stigma and provide a safe space to discuss mental health while simultaneously making it fashionable.
“I'm just here to comfort you. If you want to vent, I’m that person. I’m the emotional comfort,” shared Konan. "Emotional comfort and therapy are similar, but two different things. I'm not saying after you talk to me your problems are going away. I'm just here if you want to release. My most important quality is being a good listener and my second is creating things you can have forever.”
Romeo is one of those forever things. The purple teddy bear was created in response to the heightened isolation and limited social interaction the country has dealt with over the last 10 months. Etched in his foot, “for company” and back “I'll keep you company when you're alone. I'll keep you safe when it gets dark,” Romeo exists to be an emotional comfort friend people can always count on.
“Romeo was made to help others cope with loneliness. That’s the main emotion everyone is feeling. Instead of giving you a regular teddy bear, why not give you something that has purpose?” asked Konan.
With tighter social distancing restrictions, a new variant and surpassing almost half a million coronavirus related deaths, concerns about social isolation have heightened. Nearly a year into the pandemic, one can argue iwmhoms is needed more than ever.
“Working in pharmacy tech, there was a pill for everything. If you’re lonely, Romeo is that pill. He’s like your boyfriend. That’s why he’s named Romeo. He’s a boyfriend that won’t cheat on you. He's not gonna go talk to another girl. He's gonna be loyal to you. He’s your companion and comfort buddy.”
Fashion is just the physical aspect of what Konan does. He also creates a safe space for others to express themselves by encouraging people to reach out on social media, text him to vent or connect with him on iwmhoms’ pop-up chat.
The majority of people who reach out to Konan are teenagers. The Ivory Coast native mentioned the most consistent topics are loneliness, heartbreak and being misunderstood. Three things he says - on the extreme end - can lead to depression.
“Most of the people that talk to me are kids going through relationship problems. These kids want to kill themselves because of a breakup. It’s the end of the world for them. It definitely hurts at any age but what I advise is to find your purpose. You need to find something you can believe in wholeheartedly.”
Konan admitted he has had mental health issues of his own and wanted to commit suicide but said “when you start seeing life for the bigger picture, the little problems you have are really miniscule.”
He hasn't received the $15,000 from 2 Chainz yet but Konan says it's not an excuse to wait around. “This is bigger than a cool idea and making some money. When was the last time you heard of a fashion brand actively say we're gonna fight against mental health stigma?" Konan asked. "I'm trying to revolutionize mental health in the Black and immigrant home."