Grits Co. is what one might call a Mom and Popshop. Reuben Levi and his wife, Toya, run the southern lifestyle brand. Grits Co. was started in 2008 out of the frustration Levi felt in style strictly representing Los Angeles and New York.
Grits Co. is what it is — unapologetically so. The slogan is simple: “No Grits, No Glory.” It’s a reminder to put your whole self into something you love and never give up.
Levi was born and raised in Houston, Texas. He’s a self-described compulsive drawer, greasy spoon loving, junk collector and purveyor of southern lifestyle.
Learn more about the man behind the business below.
When did you start the brand and what inspired you to do so?
At the time I was in to Streetwear, and I got tired of always representing the New York or LA look and lifestyle. I started Grits out of that frustration.
I took a hiatus in 2012 to spend time with my family and to make sure I clearly knew the direction I wanted the brand to go, and now I am back with Grits Co. After re-launching the brand and adding a new mascot, Roscrow, I wanted to create a brand that represents the southern lifestyle, culture and my interests. We use the words and narratives that we grew up with to inspire us.
There is a similar experience we get from the look and feel of vintage garments and products ... these stories go beyond just the thread and fiber. I believe every piece should tell the story, whether it’s hand crafted in the U.S., classic bold imagery or hand chain-stitched lettering, those stories remind us of a simpler time when anything was possible if you just dreamed it.
All you need is some grit to make it happen.
What is the driving force behind Grits Co.?
Faith, family, love and passion.
From where did the idea for a mascot come?
I wanted to create an icon for Grits Co. that felt classic. I love the ’30s and ’40s cartoons like Popeye or Felix the Cat, so the crow made perfect sense for the southern reference and lifestyle of Grits Co.
Roscrow raises all kinds of hell. He does what he wants no matter what someone thinks of him. Roscrow is nobody’s fool. I based a lot of his mannerisms off of real crows being socially intelligent creatures as well as the jive-talking crows in the classic movie, "The Wiz.”
Being black in America also inspired me; being a product of the south has its own stereotypes. I wanted to take Roscrow and turn the negative connotation of the old Jim Crow South into a positive modern day experience of the South.
With much respect to blacks back then, they paved the way for companies like Grits Co. by enduring many hardships. They still persevered despite it, and I learn the same lesson everyday pushing my brand.
No Grits No Glory.
Is Grits a full-time job for you?
Yes, Grits is a full-time job for me. I design something new everyday and I keep enhancing it until I am ready to produce it or just backlog it to use at a later time. We also own a creative design company called Pencil Break that keeps me pretty busy.
Is Grits a team? Do you do all the design and illustration work in house?
Grits is definitely a team. When I first got started, I would try to handle it all by myself but business took over and I needed help. So now me, my wife, Toya, and my daughters all take part in helping with the day-to-day operations. A true Mom and Popshop.
We also have a few other people that are a part of the team, too. Our family motto is, “teamwork makes the dream work,” so we all work together as the company grows.
I do all of the designing in house. On occasions I may do a collaboration, but I feel that as the brand is re-launching, it’s good to keep the down-home gritty feeling to the brand.
What kind of risks have you taken to get the brand off the ground?
Everything is a risk when starting a brand. Family, business and money are all risks you take when pursuing your passions. I am still standing, so I think it’s worth it.
How have your surroundings influenced the brand?
Where I live and how I grew up plays a significant roll in the brand. Our family is from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Most of the sayings that are on our shirts came from my family or from blues songs.
Who are some of your idols or mentors?
I don’t really have any idols, but if I had to pick, only three come to mind: Erik Brunetti (Fuct SSDD), Shinsuke Takizawa (Neighborhood) and, last but not least, my mentor Alyasha Owerka-Moore (Fiberops, North Manual Vocational). Aly is a true inspiration and all-around cool cat.
You have a strong presence on Instagram. What’s the story behind all the black-and-white photos you post?
The photos are the visual soundtrack for Grits Co. A lot of my inspiration comes from the past.
What sets Grits apart from the other brands out there right now?
Southern influences mixed with vintage sensibilities.
What is on the horizon for Grits Co. that has you excited?
I am looking forward to our spring release and some special limited pieces to drop throughout the year. So stay tuned.
Do you have any advice for other creatives and entrepreneurs looking to start their own brands?
Be with the ones you love, and the ones that love you. Ignore everyone else.