Eion Jackson is one of those rare high school graduates who knows exactly what he’s going to do with his life, and he’s already making it happen.
As the Grand Rapids Magazine’s sister publication, the Grand Rapids Business Journal, reported in 2020, Jackson, who graduated from Hudsonville High School last month, founded the urban streetwear apparel business JCKS Apparel in 2019. By last year, he was selling products including T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, swimwear, hats and accessories such as lanyards, stickers and fanny packs — all with a theme of exploration and travel — in 17 states and Puerto Rico.
This year, the 18-year-old rebranded the clothing company under his full name, Eion Jackson, at eionjackson.com, as an intentional move from being seen as just a growing brand to now being seen as a growing designer.
“I wanted it to be more personal than what it was before,” Jackson said, noting that he looks to designers such as Reese Cooper and Virgil Abloh for inspiration and may eventually branch out into other kinds of custom apparel and accessories.
Year over year, Jackson grew sales by 2,000% and his social media following by 300%. By end of the first quarter in 2021, he had already surpassed all of 2020’s annual sales.
His latest product line, Reach for the Stars, includes hoodies, T-shirts, trucker hats, shorts and swim trunks and was released April 9. It elicited a global response with hundreds of customers waiting online for the products to be released. Once the collection went live, sales were coming in at $1,000 per minute, and most of the items sold out within a week. Just a few were left in his shop as of early May, but Jackson also was planning his next product drop to launch last month.
As a young minority designer, Jackson also uses his voice and growing platform to call attention to relevant issues. His product release before Reach for the Stars was called Dream Chasin’ and included T-shirts and sweatshirts in different colors with images of Martin Luther King Jr., and a portion of the profits from those product sales was donated to the NAACP. It was released in January and February and sold out by March.
Jackson now has customers in 44 states, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and Belgium. The latter is the newest country in which he built a following and one of the last countries Jackson visited on a family vacation prior to the pandemic.
Since last year, Jackson upgraded his computer design software to Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop; shifted some of his manufacturing to local suppliers; and invested in his own equipment, such as a screen printer, sewing machine and vinyl cutters, to do some of the production himself. He also began handling his own packaging to better control the details.
Missy Jackson, a managing partner at the business consulting firm The Vantage Group, is a big supporter of her son’s business, financially and otherwise, and she said it has been “incredible” to watch him grow since last year.
“His marketing efforts have been a huge contributing factor to his growth over the last year,” she said. “He has been strategic in his ads with Instagram and has grown his followership significantly. When things really started taking off for him is when he began making his packaging more personal. He almost always includes a handwritten note, complete with his signature on it, thanking his customers for their orders. He also asks them to post pics of themselves wearing his designs and tag his company page on Instagram. If they do, he will reshare their post on his company page. Not only are people regularly doing this, but he is also now getting shout-outs by other fashion enthusiasts on TikTok and Instagram about being a ‘designer to watch.’”
Jackson plans to attend Grand Rapids Community College this fall in pursuit of an associate degree in business and a certificate in entrepreneurship. He said he is looking to build operational, financial and accounting skills to give him a solid foundation for the future, as he plans to grow his business for the long haul.
The young designer said while he is aware that not many other high school students are serious entrepreneurs like himself, all he knows is he is pursuing his passion.
“I’m just doing what I love in making designs, and then people are buying them,” he said.
Jackson added the pieces he is releasing currently are limited-edition items, and since he plans to make a name for himself on the global stage, customers should hang onto those items as an investment.
“Someday, they might be worth quite a bit of money,” he said, smiling.