The road to entrepreneurship started in prison for a Junction City shoe, clothing and accessories designer.
Curtis McDaniel was serving five years for criminal threat and possession of a firearm the day he learned his sister was murdered.
An article in Newsday, said DNA analysis confirmed in Jan. 2014 that skeletal remains found nearly a year earlier were that of Erica McDaniel. Her body had been stuffed in a suitcase and left in an abandoned building in Brooklyn, New York; the crime remains unsolved.
McDaniel recalled the day his parole officer tried to get him out long enough to go to the memorial service on Jan. 22, 2014.
“He was really fighting to get me out but his supervisor said I was a retaliation risk (against) the person that killed my sister,” he said. “But we don’t know who did it, nobody knows who did it.”
That didn’t matter. Three times that day they told him he was about to go — three times they sent him back to his cell. While sitting in that cell, his heart aching to be with his family, McDaniel vowed that when he got out, he would find a different path — he would make something of his life. He also knew it was up to him alone to commit to changing.
“I’d had legal trouble all my youth — I grew up in a cell,” he said. “I’m not a good criminal. That’s why I did so much time — I’d be out a week or two and really mess up. Judge Barker before he retired, he shook my hand and said ‘don’t graduate to a blue suit.’ I graduated to a blue suit (adult prison). I wasn’t really listening then. I had to make the change on my own.”
While in prison there was no direction or rehabilitation — nothing that could help keep him out.
“I realized I had to get myself out,” he said. “So, I started teaching myself about business.”
First, he learned the about corporations and limited liability companies. Then, he started reading “All You Need to Know About the Music Business” by Don Passman and began formulating a plan. He looked at what he enjoys and what he’s good at and began figuring out how to turn his hobbies into a business.
“I love clothing,” he said. “I love music. I love anything entertainment. I know how to draw.”
From his prison cell the Rowdy Boy brand was born.
Combining his skills and what he likes, McDaniel began drawing and developing designs for clothing and shoes. But having the drawings isn’t enough. He furthered his research and learned how to submit his work for production and has received back prototypes of his merchandise.
But now he has run into a problem, which is all too familiar to entrepreneurs, a problem he can’t solve by reading books and studying.
“It’s hard to get funding, hard to get investors,” McDaniel said. “Right now, I'm helping somebody else build their dream. I can't get the funding that they got when they started their business, because I'm in a different category.”
That category being a minority with a criminal record.
Additionally, he is straddling two worlds. The business world that he is trying to be part of is different than the one he grew up in.
“When it comes to me ask for money it's like I'm speaking a language nobody understands,” he said.
However, he has faith in his brand and the many iterations it has taken on.
“I know people will buy my products, it’s just getting the product into production,” he said.
In addition to the shoes, the Rowdy Boy brand includes a clothing line he named in Erica’s memory — Forever ‘Till Forever LXXXIV. When sales get going, he said he plans to donate 10% to organizations that advocate against domestic violence.
He also has an assortment of accessories such as Bluetooth headphones, earbuds and speakers, which tie into another venture — to have a one-stop shop for entertainment purposes — radio, videography, photography and more.
He is designing this part of the business to help young people avoid the path he took when he was a juvenile. There are several programs that involve youth but he wants to take a different approach.
“For a lot of the kids, the activities they give them are activities they don’t really want to do,” he said. “It’s things that we think they want to do. But when they get there, they're still parental. I want to give them the outlet to get comfortable in business and confident in business. So, when they come into this business world, they don't feel scared.”
Even though, at the moment, McDaniel is struggling to get find the funding source that will catapult Rowdy Boy into a full-fledged, money-making business, he said the path he is on now is still easier than where he was a few years ago.
“It’s all about seeing how easy your success really is,” he said. “I couldn’t see it (before) so I took the ‘easier’ route, which turned out to be the hardest fight of my life.”
A fight that gave him post traumatic syndrome disorder and one he never wants to get involved in again.
“While you're in prison, we watch Walking Dead,” he said. “We feel like we're the walking dead because while we're in, nobody remembers us. It's really a treacherous place.”
Turning his life around is also impacting his children which is one of the best things that has come out of his lessons.
“They have improved since I came home,” he said. “My sons, they do good in school and they listen. The best thing that I did was be a mess up and show them that I can be a CEO now. Telling them and showing them that are two different things. I'm literally living that now.”