Entrepreneur Houston White has a lot going on

North Minneapolis native Houston White is what one might call a “Renaissance Man.”

The local fashion designer owns a space in North Minneapolis at the corner of 44th and Humboldt Avenue N. There, he operates a barbershop, a men’s apparel shop and a café, known as The Get Down Coffee Co.

Yes, he sells his designs where he cuts hair.

White’s latest venture is a collaboration with Target, which will last until Spring 2024. Items will cost between $14 and $60, with most priced under $30. 

So how did he find the time to partner with Target to launch the Houston White brand? White says it’s a labor of love.

“Honestly, it’s a joy, it’s a love because we get to operate in areas where we’re strong. And so I have the time because I’m not trying to do it all alone,” White said.

Target, in a press statement, calls the collection of clothes and accessories “menswear-inspired,” though White says anyone can wear them. The retailer adds “that the brand will encourage self-expression and celebrate the beauty of diversity through style.”

White says the collection was influenced by the COVID pandemic — as people were wearing sweats and working from home.

“And so I felt like there was an opportunity and so what I pitched was we should build these modular collections that have everything from your favorite sweats to your favorite blazer, accessories that will really allow you to make the outfits whatever you want them to be from very dressy to very casual.” he said.

Six people pose for a photo outside a business
Minneapolis City Council members and Mayor Jacob Frey pose with Houston White, owner of The Get Down Coffee Company in north Minneapolis.
Sarah Thamer | MPR News

Akshay Rao is professor of marketing and the General Mills Chair in Marketing at the Carlson School of Management, part of the University of Minnesota. Rao explains that Target’s brand has long featured inclusivity – whether that pertains to employees, customers or underrepresented communities.

He points out that the retailer did face backlash in 2010 when they supported a local Republican candidate who opposed LGBTQ rights. 

After the murder of George Floyd, Target pledged to invest $2 billion in Black-owned businesses by 2025. 

Target and other Twin Cities companies, Rao said, “decided to or they were encouraged to be more sensitive to the needs of the minority communities in the local community. And so this is one such event that is forming an alliance with a designer who is not just representative of a minority community, but he’s also local and seemingly very talented.” 

Rao says the alliance between Target and Houston White — a local designer of color — seems to fit the retailer’s business model.

“In addition to partnering with somebody from the minority community, somebody from the local community and this is a highly, highly desirable thing to do. Particularly given the customers to whom they wish to appeal,” Rao said. 

To say that White is thrilled with the partnership would be an understatement. White vividly recalls the moment the deal with Target was done. 

“My response was just like, gratitude, adulation …” he said. “It’s this real ‘Mama, I made it’ kind of moment.  I have been working on this for a long time.”