EDGE Elite: Active Faith with Lanny Smith
Faith, as many believe, is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. For Lanny Smith founder of Active Faith the first ever Christian sports apparel brand, the journey to creating his company taught him the true meaning of the word. Lanny who had been a star basketball player for the majority of his life never saw himself doing anything else but playing sports. But an Earth shattering knee injury would change the course of his life forever. With his back against the wall, Smith relied on his faith in God and love of sports to start an apparel brand from the ground up. Despite not having any previous business experience or knowledge of clothing production and distribution, Active Faith has grown exponentially, and is continually being recognized by the media and worn by some of the biggest names in the world of professional sports. The story behind how Active Faith came to be is nothing short of amazing, just like a great adventure flick, there is a compelling story, moments of adversity, and ultimately an epic finish. Luckily for us there will be a sequel since there is much more to come from the brand. Read on to learn exactly how Lanny overcame, his advice for others, and what’s next for the Active Faith Brand.
EDGE: Tell me a little about your background, where did you grow up and go to school?
LANNY: I was born and raised in Houston, TX. A basketball player my whole life, I was Houston Player of the year coming out of high school, honorable mention, all- American, and went on to play my college ball at the University of Houston. I played in the NBA development league for a few years and signed with the Sacramento Kings in the NBA before a career ending injured knee. That led to me starting my company Active Faith Sports.
EDGE: What compelled you to share your message of Christ with others and start Active Faith?
LANNY: My faith was always something that was important to me growing up, and through some situations with sports I saw the platform that we have as athletes. When my career ended I really was searching, I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I was just praying to God to show me how he wanted to use me and to show me what he wanted to do with my life. I was really blessed with this vision for Active Faith Sports, which is a Christian Sports Apparel Brand so it gave me the opportunity to merge my faith and my love for sports into one and use the platform we are given as athletes to spread messages of faith and messages about Christ.
EDGE: Did you have to overcome any obstacles on the road to creating Active Faith?
LANNY: From the research that I’ve done and from the many people that I’ve talked to, there has never been a Christian sports apparel brand. There are a lot of Christian t-shirt companies and Christian clothing companies but never an actual sports apparel brand that was centered around Christ, so just the obstacle of doing something that had never been done before was huge. I faced a lot of doubters and people that didn’t share the vision, I’m not gong to say they didn’t believe in it because they were hating, it was just because it was hard for them to see the vision that I was blessed with. And initially I thought I was going to start Active Faith and it was going to be something that ministered to all these different people, but it was actually ministering to me the entire time because I had to be active in my own faith. Stepping out and doing something that had never been done before and doing something that I never saw myself doing.
EDGE: Did you in a million years imagine this for yourself?
LANNY:This was never planned as a back up plan, if you would have told me that I would be doing this two years ago I would have laughed at you. It was really something that God put on my heart to do. I was a kinesiology major was playing basketball so I had to really step out on faith. So for God to give me this task of starting this company, it was kind of a daunting, so I had to be active in my own faith and believe that he was going to provide what was necessary for me to complete this task. There have been times where I won’t say I doubted but, looked at the task and thought this is so daunting it’s almost like ‘Wow, how am I supposed to do this without certain experiences and expertise and things like that’. I’ve found that all along the way he has provided either an opportunity or placed people in my path that have helped me to kind of get to where I am now. It’s been a God thing this entire time. He has moved things in place and open doors in a way that my only explanation is him.
EDGE: Describe the popularity of the Active Faith armbands, who is your ideal customer for them and your clothing?
LANNY: The bands initially were just a promotional type item. We weren’t even selling those we were giving them away for free trying to get the name out there because the entire time the vision and the plan was to have the actual apparel. I knew that was what was going to set us apart from anything else was having sports apparel that was Christian themed and Christian based. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as just another Christian t-shirt company. I feel like our market is huge one you have so many athletes who are Christian’s and it seems like the timing is perfect. It seems like now more athletes are open about their faith and sharing their faith. And now with all the many churches that have church leagues, and things like that we’ve been approached by different Christian high schools as well as a few Christian colleges as far as providing their sports apparel for their sports teams so that’s definitely anther avenue that we will be tapping into. But it’s not necessarily just for athletes, anybody who wants a way to display their faith. We encourage everyone to be active in their faith whether they are an athlete or not because the whole bases behind what we’re dong is to use whatever you do, whatever your gifts are, whatever your talents are whatever God has blessed you to do, to do it in his name, to bring glory to his name. So whether you’re a teacher, garbage, man, or lawyer, or an athlete it’s kind of the same concept to do whatever you’re doing in his name.
EDGE: How did you come up with the name Active Faith?
LANNY: I was reading an article online on how to come up with a name for your brand, a name for your company, because I didn’t know what to call it, and one of the pieces of advice was to write down words that described words that your company was going to do or what it was going to be about and “Active” was one of the words I wrote down and of course “Faith” was one of the words I wrote down. For some reason when I saw those two words together it just fit perfectly. And the tagline we have “In Jesus Name I Play” was actually a mistake I made and it kind of turned into being the slogan for the brand. One of my pre game rituals that I used to do when I was playing was pray before every game and I normally end my prayers with “In Jesus name I pray amen.” One game I accidentally slipped up and said in “Jesus name I play amen.” I remember laughing at myself at the time for messing up that way but it was kind of one of those AHA! moments I guess. When you fast forward to after I had surgery and I’m sitting there writing down these ideas for the company and I’m thinking Nike has “Just Do It” and UnderArmor has “Must Protect this House” what’s going to be our slogan for our brand and it just came back to me. “In Jesus Name I Pray” just came back to me and it kind of fit perfectly.
EDGE: What is your creative process for developing new pieces?
LANNY: Well I used to write poetry, so I have a creative mind I guess I would say. And a lot of times ideas whether it came from writing and even now to this, it would come to me late at night. I’m a night owl so it would be 2 to 3 o’clock in the morning and an idea would just come to me and I would have to just write it down and then kind of go from there. Sometimes I’m in the shower and something will come to me and I have to hurry up and grab my iPhone or something and write it down but that’s kind of where is first comes from. A lot of ideas I can’t even explain where they came from they just came and then I go through the process of just putting it down. With a lot of concepts for the different apparel my COO and the head of the women’s line Kirby Thomas, would allow me to run a lot of the stuff by her. Her, my mom, just friends and family I would email a bunch of different versions of a certain design and get feedback on what they thought looked best, I would send it to different athletes I knew to see what they would like the best, and I would use their feedback to select where we would want to go and so that‘s kind of how my creative process goes. Also being an athlete and growing up wearing Jordan’s and the Jordan brand and Nike, and all that kind of stuff, I know what athletes like I know what we like to wear, the popular color ways and the type of things that look good on us. That kind of helps me when I’m choosing how to put together designs for the different apparel.
EDGE: Any advice for other designers and small business owners?
LANNY: For one, you will have moments of doubt. I mean we’re human and you are going to have those moments where you don’t know what’s coming next, you don’t know how you are going to make this thing successful and the biggest thing is to pray that doubt away and lean on your faith. Continue to put your head down in working hard, because there were times with this where I didn’t know where God was leading me with it. I didn’t know what was going to happen that next week, just being faithful and praying about it, and listening to that gut conscience, because that’s really God speaking to you. Go forward with that even if no one else see’s it and no one else believes in it, stay true to that, that’s kind of the advice I would give. Because that’s led me and anytime I listen to that, I have never been led wrong. As far as the design aspect of it and what you want to do with the company and your brand, stay true to the message and what inspired you to do what you’re doing. Just here recently I turned down some investment offers and some deals that were lucrative, but the people wanted me to take Jesus off of what I was doing to maybe appeal to a bigger market, but I turned that down. I refused to do that because I didn’t want to compromise the message, I didn’t want to compromise what it stood for because the message itself is the reason why I started it. Never compromise yourself, never compromise the message that you’re trying to put out there, and never compromise what inspired you.
EDGE: What else can we expect from you in the future?
LANNY: We’ve experienced some explosive growth once the media learned that Jeremy Lin was wearing our armbands and other products. We’ve had several professional athletes from the NBA, NFL, major league baseball, and so on wearing our apparel so we want to continue to grow in the sense of adding to the Active Faith team of athletes who are representing the brand. We currently have a couple of deals with national retailers that carry the brand nationwide; we are currently being sold in Lakewood Church, which is the biggest church in the country here in Texas, and looking forward to expanding and reaching out to different churches and being carried there. We are also in the process of forming our non-profit division that will be focused on charitable contributions and giving back to the community and things like that. We have a lot on our plate and really it’s just the beginning, the tip of the iceberg here. We actually have our very first product line for men and women; we look to expand that product line get into uniforms at some point for the different sports teams, and then accessories. We are in talks of coming out with an Active Faith book that will be a collection of testimonies from different Christian professional athletes that are on board with us. The sky’s the limit, and everyday I pray and ask God to lead and guide me and show me what he wants me to do. What decisions, for it to be pleasing in his sight so were just excited about Active Faith.
EDGE: What else would you like our readers to know about you and your brand?
LANNY: Some of the feedback that we got from our customers is that ‘it’s new, it’s Christian, but it’s fashionable and cool’. Active Faith is functional first, yet fashionable.