Dream sportswear line from Bakari Henderson gets backing by Amazon after his death
In the early morning hours of July 7, 2017, Jill and Phil Henderson received a call in their Austin home from the U.S. Embassy in Greece.
Their son, 22-year-old Bakari Henderson, had been beaten to death outside a bar in Laganas, on the Greek island of Zakynthos.
"It was devastating," Jill Henderson says. "It the worst news of our lives."
Their son had been in Greece for a photo shoot of the clothing line he had been planning to launch for years. He had brought with him samples of clothes and was working with models for photos on the island.
When they talked to him during his trip, "excitement can't even explain the joy he had," says Jill Henderson. "If you knew Bakari, he was always extremely animated."
He was having the time of his life, he told his family. The weather was great, the food was great.
He told them things like "business is going to be booming," "this is awesome," "we're going to get it going."
The Hendersons have continued their son's dream by launching his clothing line, Bakari Luxury Sportwear. It has now been picked by Amazon to be featured on Amazon's Black-owned small businesses store.
A friend suggested to the Hendersons that they contact Amazon, which is how they began their partnership with the company.
"We are really just getting started," Jill Henderson says. "Their commitment to small businesses has been phenomenal and making sure that Black business are highlighted on their website has been a blessing to us."
Currently, the operation is based in their house, but as the business grows, they hope to use Amazon as a fulfillment center.
The item that they think is the most Bakari is the lightweight hoodie, which was one of his first designs. On the Amazon site, that hoodie in black, gray or purple sells for $49. They also have sports bras for $39, T-shirts for $39, shorts for $49, sweatpants for $59, and terry cloth cargo jogging pants for $69.
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Bakari Henderson graduated on a full scholarship from the University of Arizona two months before his death. He wanted to launch the line while in college, but his parents reminded him that college took priority. Jill Henderson says Bakari "was a real go-getter. In his mind he was already behind schedule."
Whenever they saw him, he was on his laptop or cellphone working on his vision. He would wake up at 6 a.m. each day and work on his brand. "He was just driven," Jill Henderson says.
The plan was for him to return to Austin after the photo shoot and launch the line. The logo was something he had worked on since middle school. It had evolved and represented his travels with a toga and a crown. "He gave it a lot of thought," Jill Henderson says.
After his death they found his journal, which he had left in his room at home. It had design notes, color schemes and a chart with each logo numbered with which item it would go on. He had left them a road map to his clothing line.
"It was amazing," she says. "I always tell my kids to keep a journal, to always write down everything." Bakari had listened.
"It was more confirmation that we couldn't let (Bakari Luxury Sportswear) die," she says.
By that December, they had filed paperwork to become a business. They worked on turning his designs into reality by searching for manufacturers. He had left a list, and they researched others.
Jill Henderson had a background in managing contracts for high-tech companies. Phil Henderson is a life coach and also has a marketing background.
Forming the company "actually helped with the grieving process and dealing with all the stress."
The case of Bakari Henderson's death has involved nine people, a trial and a postponed retrial. Six were found guilty, and four have been released.
Surveillance video from a bar where Henderson was visiting showed a man taking offense to Henderson posing for a selfie with a female bar employee. The man hit Henderson, who struck back. Before long, Henderson fled the bar and was knocked to the ground by a group of men who punched and kicked him. Authorities say he was dead within 30 seconds.
"It's our faith," Jill Henderson says, that has kept them going, as well as "knowing that Bakari's life was taken while pursuing his passion. That passion ... we took it and turned it into our purpose."
She says, "You can die in the grave with him or you can continue to let his spirit guide you."
They have taken their son's vision and have big dreams for its future. In five years, Jill Henderson says, she would like Bakari Luxury Sportswear to be a globally recognized brand, but "one that is not your normal brand, one that is generating love and helping people."
They are working on expanding and reaching out to other designers. It will still be based on the initial concepts and designs that Bakari left for them. "He had three notebooks," she says, "it's not like we've exhausted all of those."
"It gives us joy," Jill Henderson says, "I'm sure he's looking down and saying, 'Yes! Thanks for pushing this dream forward for me.'"
Nicole Villalpando writes about health, parenting and culture for the American-Statesman. She can be reached at email@example.com.