While Ford counts such celebrities as rapper Common, football player Michael Vick and producer Needles among his clients, the secret of his success is simple: Be in the right place at the right time and wear your product. He tells the story of how he came to make a Malcolm X shirt for Denver Nuggets basketball star Carmelo Anthony.
"I went up to him after a basketball game in Richmond and handed him one of my cards," Ford says. "He said he wanted one of my shirts the same day to wear to a Richmond club later that night. I went home, got a shirt and began to paint."
Ford finds out who's coming to town through connections at local radio stations, then makes sure he gets a chance to introduce himself and pitch his shirts. He's also taken his product on the road to various trade and fashion shows in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. His designs have even made it to television. Recently, R&B singer Ray J wore one of his shirts on his BET.com show. And through Ford's connections at HBO, one of the characters on "The Wire" sported a Nosaj original in the December season finale. The show ordered more for the fourth season.
Ford began Nosaj (Jason spelled backwards) Authentics in 2004 as a senior project at East Carolina University, where he studied illustration. He thought that the best way to get his art to the public was right on people's backs. When he realized the popularity of his work, Ford bought some T-shirts in bulk, an initial investment that ran him about $100.
Ford is a one-man show, working out of his home studio in Henrico. He takes orders, consults with the clients, and then gets to work interpreting their requests, which usually takes about three days. Ford oversees everything from production to marketing. That includes maintaining his Web site, which features photos of him with some famous faces wearing or holding his designs.
"I always have something I can be doing," Ford says "working on the Web page, contacting boutiques, calling this magazine or that magazine." As a result of press kits he sent to magazines, he was recently featured in The Source's "Ear to the Streets" section.
Despite all his promoting, he says, "My friends are probably the best promotion I have. I keep them equipped with cards. And if they're wearing the shirts, someone's going to ask them about it."
Ford's goal now is to grow his company into a full-fledged clothing line. And in order to do that, he knows he either needs to start silk-screening his images or add more artists. He's asked for submissions from local artists, and he's doing research on how best to increase his line.
"I know I started as an artist," Ford says. "I would love to create that opportunity for others because it's definitely a good way to get your art noticed. And I'm beginning to realize you can't do everything yourself." For more on Jason Ford's Nosaj Authentics, go to www.nosajauthentics.com.More Midseason Arts Preview...