KC Entrepreneur Pays It Forward after Launching Civic-Minded Lifestyle Brand during COVID
For Kansas City entrepreneur Godfrey Riddle, things changed when he finally realized that life is too short.
A string of life-altering events set that stage for change. He was diagnosed with cancer at 29 years old. He lost his father six weeks later. His mother passed away 14 months after. The 2020 murder of George Floyd was, he says, a tipping point.
Godfrey decided he wasn’t going to leave his future up to anyone or anything else.
“When you go through such traumatic life events, it really pushes you to evaluate what’s important,” he says.
Godfrey launched Civic Saint, a lifestyle brand which offers a collection of activist-minded clothing and accessories, with a portion of the proceeds going to organizations that fight for racial and social equity.
“I’ve always wanted to start a business that would add value to the world and show that positive impact and profitability are complementary,” adds Godfrey. “Talking to my mother in the months before she passed about what she wanted to do – because she was very entrepreneurial, but never had the opportunity — pushed me to say, life is literally too short.
“I would rather chase my dream and fail than have the opportunity be taken away from me because of things out of my own control.”
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Getting creative during COVID
Godfrey debuted his social enterprise in Kansas City at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He counts this as both a challenge and a benefit. The challenge: He wasn’t able to do many things that a new entrepreneur might do in the early stages of a company, like focus groups. The benefit: It forced him to get creative.
“I had to be really mindful about my supply chain,” Godfrey says. “I had to be super mindful about sustainability and how I’m going to build out this business.”
Godfrey says Kansas City is uniquely positioned to support small business, thanks to the wealth of resources available to aspiring entrepreneurs. He was introduced to several business-building organizations through KCSourceLink, which connected him to the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Square One Small Business Services at Mid-Continent Public Library, Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at University of Missouri-Kansas City, just a few of the 240+ organizations in the KC Resource Partner network. It was the latter, the UMKC SBDC, where he received an Urban Business Growth Initiative scholarship to take the NEW VENTURE course through its ELEVATIONLAB™ for just $75.
A crash course in launching a business
“[ELEVATIONLAB NEW VENTURE] has been phenomenal, because it really helped me shape how to start and operate my business, not only today, but long term,” Godfrey says.
“You learn literally how to register and set up your business practices, your standard operating procedures and identify your target customer, but it also taught me how to think long term about building a sustainable business and resources to make decisions when I get down the road, five, 10, 20 years from now.”
ELEVATIONLAB NEW VENTURE is a five-week crash course on how to be an entrepreneur and start your business, covering everything from ideation and incorporation to product development and identifying your target customer, plus accounting and legal considerations.
“You don’t leave a tactician – you leave educated as a generalist,” Godfrey says. “They introduce you to resources so you know where to go when you do encounter a question, and help you with the meat and potatoes of your business, the things that really matter to get you going. It allows you to work specifically on your business through the course. That’s what’s so powerful.”
A key insight Godfrey learned from ELEVATIONLAB NEW VENTURE is that you don’t have to have a once-in-a-lifetime idea to become an entrepreneur; you just need the right tools.
He also stresses that for people of color, entrepreneurship is often the only opportunity to take control of their financial future.
“Part of starting Civic Saint was wanting to take control over my financial future, as opposed to letting others decide for me,” Godfrey says.
Representation in entrepreneurship
Although Civic Saint is less than a year old, true to its mission, Godfrey is already paying it forward and helping budding Kansas City entrepreneurs, including a collaborator from the Kansas City Art Institute.
“It’s important to me. As a gay, Black man, I didn’t see entrepreneurs who looked like me growing up,” Godfrey says. “Visibility and representation are important. You can’t become it if you don’t see it or experience it, so right now I’m trying to play an active role in mentoring.”
Godfrey continues to stress the availability of resources for Kansas City entrepreneurs, and worries that many don’t know that they exist, especially underserved communities.
“It dumbfounds me that there are entrepreneurs in our community who don’t know about all of these resources, but at the same time, I remember and understand the history of disenfranchisement,” he says. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done by the organizations to reach those communities, because they can’t access what they don’t know.”
Creating opportunities for systematic change
Ultimately, Godfrey hopes to release a full Civic Saint capsule collection and eventually expand into a full lifestyle brand with culinary items, home décor and more. For now, he’s working on establishing wholesale relationships and brand awareness.
“The fact of the matter is that as a Black person in America, our lives are so uncertain. There’s an aspect of, ‘I need to pursue my dreams because I never know when my life may be cut short,’ but there’s also the realization of how deeply the deck is stacked against us,” Godfrey says. “In many ways, [entrepreneurship] is the only way to come up and close the gap. We have to overcome 400 years of disenfranchisement and literally having our wealth taken away from us and having opportunities to create wealth blocked from us.”
And that’s what inspires and ignites Godfrey’s entrepreneurial journey.
“It allows me to pursue my dream of owning a business, my dream of having a fashion brand and building something that can empower people [while] funding systematic change. We’ll have equitable and inclusive access to wealth-building opportunities. That’s my big vision for Civic Saint.”
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