Childhood friends Milton Latrell and Christopher Brackenridge both grew up with moms who worked as seamstresses and helped them understand the power of well-fitting clothing. Nearly 15 years ago, the childhood friends decided to pursue their shared passion for fashion and went into business together with Agriculture, a custom clothier and luxury goods store for men.
“It’s our job to identify what brings out the best in people through image. We really enjoy seeing the smile on a guy’s face when his confidence builds up with a piece of clothing that is made to fit his body type and personal style,” said Chris.
The flagship store was originally opened in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood, which was once known as the Black Metropolis, with Black-owned businesses such as restaurants, theaters, and nightclubs lined up along the seven-mile strip. Milton and Chris were inspired by the classic style of the celebrities, entertainers and influential people who once lived in the neighborhood. As their successful business continued to grow, they decided it was time for a new chapter and relocated Agriculture to the Gold Coast, one of the city’s well-known shopping districts.
A year after moving in the summer of 2019, Agriculture was faced with the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and property destruction during the unrest. As a customer-service oriented business, the stay-at-home orders impacted relationships with clients. They worked on other creative ways to encourage shoppers to visit the store and started selling custom-made masks. After months of closure and struggling to engage with clients in person, the store was looted in August 2019.
The application process for federal financial assistance left many small business owners looking elsewhere for funding they could qualify for. Early data showed Black and Latino businesses struggled to get assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program compared to white-owned businesses. For many businesses, the resources and support offered by organizations like the Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce are their last lifelines. Felicia Slaton-Young, the co-founder and executive director of the Chamber, put out a call soliciting funds to help damaged businesses through the GE Chamber Foundation, the Chamber’s non-profit arm, and the McCormick Foundation supported the restorative work.
“There was so much love when Felicia reached out to us. The resources we received helped us do so many things that helped keep us in business,” said Milton. The grant helped cover the costs of repairs, merchandise and the bills that kept coming throughout the months of closure. “The Greater Englewood Chamber Foundation stepped in and that grant meant so much to us at that time. It was very encouraging for us to keep moving forward as a resilient business.”