INTERVIEW: Schemer Highlight: Brandale Randolph

Schemer Highlight: Brandale Randolph

Now, what do bicycles, bags, and abolition have to do with each other? Honestly, I didn't know until I had the opportunity to catch up with entrepreneur, Brandale Randolph of 1854 Cycling.

From being inspired by his wife to start a business, understanding the importance of our past, working hand-in-hand with ex-offenders, to embracing a niche industry; Brandale drops knowledge that all passion pursuers can utilize in their business. 

Alright, we start off all these #SchemerHighlights the same -  tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

My name is Brandale Randolph and I am the founder & CEO of the 1854 Cycling Company. 1854 Cycling makes handcrafted luxury bicycles and leather goods. We donate a portion of our proceeds to programs that help ex-offenders. Prior to this, I was the executive director of Project: Poverty, a 501c3 non-profit, that offered financial literacy to ex-offenders, teens who were soon to be emancipated from foster care and the chronically unemployed.   

If you were to describe who you are and what you do in one tweet (140 characters), what would that tweet be? What would be your custom hashtag?

I am a foolish dreamer who makes beautiful bikes and leather goods. I then donate the proceeds to various programs that support ex-offenders.  

My hashtag is #1854Cycling

So after we were first introduced in Blavity's #CreativeSociety I knew I had to link with you. Can you tell the readers 1) why bicycles 2) why leather craftsmanship and 3) how the year 1854 and slavery has to do with your business?

The idea of doing bicycles was kind of random. It essentially came out of frustration of shopping for a bike that matched my personal style. All of the fixed gear bikes that I found were functional but not necessarily aesthetically pleasing. The most beautiful bike were the ones I found in Europe and the Middle East. Those bikes were simply stunning. They had leather handlebars, seats, pedals and some had these nice frame bags. Then I looked at the market and I saw that I was not alone. Each year, thousands of people import such bicycles from those countries. At that point, I got the notion that I wanted in. This was a little over a year and a half ago.      
We pride ourselves on real leather craftsmanship because we believe that ultimately that is going to be what sets us apart from our competitors. Plenty of bicycle companies may enter this market to compete but we want our customers to know that our bicycles and leather goods were each made by hand by trained and skilled craftsmen. We want them to know that each item that they purchase creates real living wage jobs for real people, including ex-offenders. 
The name 1854 was chosen as an homage to the role that the town of Framingham, MA played in the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement. 1854 was the year that frustration over the Fugitive Slave Act hit a fever pitch as blacks who has escaped from slavery and even those who had been born free were being stolen from free states and violently ushered back into slavery. On Independence Day 1854, William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth and other abolitionists gathered in Framingham and burned the hypocrisy of celebrating America’s freedom while the entire nation was now willing and unwilling participants in chattel slavery. 
Fast forward to today. As noted in Ava Duverney’s brilliant documentary the 13th, American slavery never ended it just moved to the prisons. I tend to view high rates of recidivism as something similar to instances where free blacks were being put back into slavery. Typically, ex-offenders are released into our communities with very little support, few if any job prospects and often no skills or specialized training but yet expected to earn a living. Sadly, 76% of all ex-offenders will be rearrested within three to five years of their release. If this is the case were they ever free? 

Slavery and Abolitionism are sensitive, controversial topics, the average entrepreneur would have some heartburn naming a business venture after them - what made you do it?

I wanted to engrave our code mission and purpose into our identity. This could have been a normal social entrepreneurial venture but by branding ourselves the 1854 Cycling Company and incorporating slavery and abolitionism in our background and ending prison recidivism as our mission, we aren’t going to make everyone happy. I get it. I chose it because I would like for our bikes, bags, and now apparel to spark a new movement against yet another injustice.  

It is my understanding that a percentage of every purchase of your products, your business donates to charities that support ex-offenders. Why are you so passionate about this demographic and what prompted you to introduce this into your business model?

This comes from my extensive background in dealing with poverty. As Executive Director of Project Poverty, I become insanely curious not only about the concept of poverty overall but who in particular is poor. Looking at the various demographics, I found that the overall household income of many families is affected by the presence of ex-offenders. Having a criminal background sometimes prevents ex-offenders from finding living wage employment. Therefore, this burden of finding a way to provide for themselves and their families often falls back on others and the community. Often, this negatively impacts cycles of generational poverty.  

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Brandale Randolph