With Macy’s Workshop, Austin rapper Chaka Mahone hopes to take his clothing line global
Best known around town as half of the hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm, rapper Chaka Mahone is also an accomplished visual artist. He launched his clothing line NefrFreshr in 2017 with a vibrant art and fashion show in the gallery space at Antone’s. Now he hopes a new brand development opportunity sponsored by Macy’s could bring the line to a wider audience.
Out of 600 applicants, NefrFreshr was one of 26 companies accepted into the department store’s Workshop at Macy’s incubator program. Over a six-week period, Mahone will participate in an intensive program that includes courses on everything from brand identity and marketing to how to build relationships with investors and retail vendors. The final classes will take place at Macy’s headquarters in New York City in late May.
Program participants aren’t guaranteed placement in Macy’s stores, but they receive coaching on all the elements they need to open up those opportunities.
“It’s about scaling the brand,” Mahone said in early May. “It's about that tipping point and moving into that national platform.”
This will be the second development program that Mahone has participated in for NefrFreshr. He recently completed Austin Community College’s Fashion Incubator. That experience helped him develop the brand in “a huge way,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have had the confidence or the knowledge, the language to speak to make the (Macy’s) application competitive if I hadn’t gone through the ACC incubator program,” he said.
When he launched the label, “I was taking my paintings, basically, and putting them on clothes,” he said. Through the ACC incubator, he developed a deeper brand identity, a story that existed outside himself.
He believes “really unique people” are the target demographic for his updated line, so he created iconography around a spotted zebra. The zebra itself is a creature with a look that stands out in the animal kingdom. Spots on a zebra are a genetic mutation that occasionally occurs. “Every now and then, a spotted zebra will come to this planet, but it's rare,” Mahone said.
Embracing the animal’s uniqueness, “really putting it at the forefront,” conjures an energy that he believes will reflect and resonate with his customers, he said.
As he works to grow the line, he is emphasizing sustainability and ethical production.
“I want to do a hemp-based line,” he said. “I don't want it to be fast fashion.”
A friend who used to live in Austin told Mahone he was wearing a NefrFreshr shirt in NYC when he ran into another man in Mahone's gear.
“They just came together and had this connection and this feeling about each other that was like they knew they were friends already,” Mahone said.
That experience illustrates his end goal for the brand.
“It’s not about maximizing the profit in some fast way,” he said. “It's about, what's the potential of this brand to actually bring people together?”
UPDATE: This story has been updated to correct the number of brands in the Macy's incubator program.