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Black Innovators Who Changed the Merch Industry

February marks Black History Month—an opportunity for us to recognize and celebrate the profound impact the Black community has had on the world, including culture, innovation, fashion, and technology, to name a few. But you may not know that countless contributions from Black creators and innovators have significantly impacted the branded merch industry! Let’s dive into a few of these game-changing inventions. 


William A. Lavalette:
The Printing Press 

In 1878, William A. Lavalette contributed to the advancement of print when he was awarded a patent to improve the printing press. Although little has been recorded about this development, his innovation set the stage for further advancements in print production. We can thank Lavalette for all those beautiful print pieces that elevate your unboxing experience.


William B. Purvis:
The Fountain Pen

In 1890, William B. Purvis made it possible to carry a fountain pen in your pocket. His updated design created a simpler, more durable and cheaper pen construction. We can thank Purvis for all the brand exposure when these pens are used in countless meetings and handed off to countless clients.



George T. Sampson:
The Clothes Dryer

In 1892, George T. Sampson developed America’s first automatic clothes dryer. While this invention revolutionized how we dry our clothes (goodbye clothesline!), it also greatly impacted the retail space. How else would we be able to wash, rinse and repeat our most cherished branded apparel?!


Clatonia J. Dorticus:
The Photo Embossing Machine

In 1894, Clatonia J. Dorticus submitted a patent to improve the machine embossing of photographic prints. Embossing is a now-popular design option that raises components of a print or apparel piece, giving it a three-dimensional look. For all the luxe print pieces and retail-inspired apparel with embossed details, we have Dorticus to thank!



Dr. George Grant:
The Golf Tee

In 1899, Dr. George Grant patented the first-ever golf tee, revolutionizing the game now beloved by over 66.6 million golfers. How did this change the game for branded merch? Golf apparel and accessories are top picks for company merch and golf tees are a phenomenal budget-friendly way to gain brand exposure. Thank you, Dr. Grant!



George Washington Carver: The Printer Ink

Before he died in 1943, George Washington Carver invented a type of printer ink (among many other innovations) using a variety of legumes in an effort to make this agricultural sector more profitable. To this day, most oil-based printer ink still uses components of this original invention as a solvent and soy-based ink is considered an eco-friendly option. Where would print marketing be today without Carver’s invention?!

Photo Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.
Photograph by Mamadi Doumbouya

Daniel Day (aka Dapper Dan): Logomania

Perhaps the most monumental innovation for the branded merch industry was all thanks to Dapper Dan. Logomania is the overt use of logos on apparel, accessories, consumables and more. In the early 1980s, this Harlem-based designer made a name for himself through this trend-setting creation known as Logomania. While this origin story begins with Dapper Dan taking high-end emblems without permission and creating his own apparel—which he coined knock-ups—his impact on the fashion industry strengthened with time. Now, brands jump at the chance to create aesthetic apparel, accessories and hard goods with logos proudly displayed, creating a frenzy of exposure for companies big and small.

It’s simple: We wouldn’t be where we are today without the incredible minds of Black innovators worldwide. But we are incredibly grateful for those who made what we do at Brand Blvd a reality. The branded merch landscape would simply not be the same without these and the many other inventors who came before us.

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