All it took was a worldwide pandemic, nationwide protests of racial injustice and one huge purchase order to change a Black-owned East Bay clothing business—possibly forever.
Y'all remember the summer of 2020, right? That's when it started. Before the natural disaster that is this election season and prior to the manmade disaster that is California's annual wildfire season.
Back when people got fed up with police brutality, groups of artists painted "Black Lives Matter" on the streets of major American cities and high-ranking officials from the Democratic party posed for photos in Kente Cloth. You recall: that bygone period in time when companies and celebrities issued vague "statements of solidarity" with the Black Lives Matter movement once they realized posturing themselves on the right side of history would do well for their bottom line.
In the midst of all of that, a certain multinational Fortune 500 company made a politically incorrect blunder. It was so public, and the backlash so strong, that the company figured the best way to save face was to not only order a huge shipment of Black Lives Matter-inspired shirts for their employees, but also hire a Black-owned printing company to make them.
Enter Big Printing T-shirt Company.
With headquarters in San Leandro, Big Printing is the backbone to some of the most prominent street brands in the clothing game, all around the nation. Locally, they print Philthy Rich's FOD line, Beeda Weeda's Mackin' & Mobbin' and Mistah Fab's DOPE ERA, as well as the rapper Cookie Money. Threads have been assembled in their factory and landed on the backs of Snoop Dogg, Andre Ward and Marshawn Lynch.
But success isn't an overnight shipment. The company has been at it for over two decades. And their origin story is about as authentically 1990s East Oakland as one can get.
In 1994, a 19-year-old ambitious teenager named Dawaud Muhammad was "looking for a hustle that wasn't involved in the street life" when Soul Beat's footage of the Festival at The Lake caught his eye—specifically a guy selling T-shirts.
Long story short: he met the guy, got some shirts wholesale and started a small business. Dawaud chose an animated brown-skinned man with a stern face and small afro as his logo. I'd go on to see the image all throughout my childhood.
Initially, the company was called Big Pimpin' Turf Clothes. There's photos of V White (formerly known as V-Dal) of the Delinquents and the late Mac Dre, as well as images of Master P, all sporting early renditions of the gear.
I recall versions of the shirts that were made for specifically for Oakland neighborhoods, like the Shady 80s or the Murda Dubbs (Murder Doves). (And it was deeper than just clothing: A childhood friend of mine, Marcell (RIP), once put hands on someone for wearing the shirt of a 'hood he wasn't really from. Made the kid take the shirt off in the middle of Dimond Park.)
Along the way, Big Pimpin' blossomed. Dawaud started out selling the shirts out of his trunk. He moved on to cultural hubs like T's Wauzi, a record store in the Eastmont Mall. And then he landed in places like the Solano Mall, Sacramento's Arden Fair Mall and San Leandro's Bayfair Mall.