In honor of Black History Month, the Georgia Tech Scheller College is celebrating our Black student and alumni entrepreneurs. We sat down with undergraduate Aboubacar Barrie to learn about his background and experience as a young entrepreneur.
Not many sophomores at Scheller can say they’ve been chosen as one of only 22 students among more than 700 applicants to win a scholarship from top fashion house Gucci. The company created the “2021 Class of Changemakers North American Scholars” program as part of their pledge to invest in community-based programs, particularly those helping communities of color.
Barrie, a sophomore from Guinea, West Africa and founder of Forenaire, was one of those students.
Not only does being chosen by a famous fashion name bring its own rewards, but the students selected received up to $20,000 to pursue their dreams of becoming top designers in the fashion industry. They were also highlighted in prestigious publications, including Ebony and Women’s Wear Daily (WWD).
Barrie cites this honor as one of his top accomplishments to date. “To be recognized by a major brand like Gucci was a solidification of all the hard work and progress I have been putting in,” he recalled.
Barrie showed a strong work ethic early on when he sought a part-time job at the age of 14, only to be told he was too young. It was then he decided that he if couldn’t be hired as an employee, he’d start his own business and become his own boss. As he tells it, his entrepreneurial spirit was born and so was Forenaire, a portmanteau created by Barrie when he asked himself, “What would a foreigner have to do to become a billionaire?”
Barrie’s brand is unique. Observing young adults in casual clothes, he felt creating clothing that offered a polished, professional look was a niche market not being addressed by other designers.
“Forenaire is a brand house that aims to create quality products to help people look and feel their best every day. The brand currently houses ‘Forenaire Professional,’ a high-end attire company that encourages young adults to dress more professionally, and ‘Forenaire Sports,’ a modest sportswear company for Muslim athletes, creating athletic pieces that do not go against their religion. I came up with both ideas after noticing the needs of these markets in my community were still unmet,” he noted.
Ever the determined founder, Barrie has faced numerous obstacles since launching his lines in 2017. As a young creator, gaining his parent’s support was one of them. Like many parents, they wanted to see their son succeed in a more traditional profession.
“When I approached them in 2016 about starting the company, I remember them saying ‘No, we will not let you start a business. Let this go and focus on your school.’ Now, after seeing all the progress I’ve been making, they are among my top supporters,” he said.
Like most founders just starting out, Barrie faced challenges in gaining access to capital and finding mentors.
“In my early years, I was doing pretty much everything by myself which included a lot of trial and error. It wasn’t until 2019 that I started receiving a good support and mentorship system to help me out,” he said.
While building his brand, Barrie, who is concentrating in marketing, recognizes Scheller for the support it has provided.
“Given the two years I’ve been at Scheller, I have to say it has played a significant role in helping me become an entrepreneur and innovator. I want to give a special shoutout to all the Scheller advisors that take the time to chat with me, hear my ideas, and eventually connect me to more resources. I would also love to recognize all the meaningful classes that prepare individuals like myself for a world that is now dominated by technology,” he said.
When asked what being a Black founder means to him, his answer is deliberate, optimistic, and forward-thinking.
“Being a Black founder means that I can do it! I too, can own and run a successful business. It means that in a business world dominated by white CEOs, Black people all over the world have the capacity to be just as successful in creating impactful businesses. It also means that young Black people like me, and any potential Black founders out there, have the ability to create businesses that bring positive change and impact to their communities.”
For Aboubacar Barrie, his journey is just beginning, but he’s already creating a path for other young Black founders to follow.