CHICAGO — Violence was an everyday reality for Devanchey Bell growing up in a West Side neighborhood where gangs and gun violence are rampant.
The Englewood native and longtime West Garfield Park resident was warned that basketball would be his only way "out" of the neighborhood. Now, as the clothing line he dreamed up continues to grow, he's looking to dispel that narrative.
The name Goodsinners "perfectly summed up the imperfections of man and how we are drawn from both sides," said Bell, a graduate and former basketball standout at Gordon Tech (now DePaul College Prep).
Bell saw those imperfections growing up on the West Side, where several of his friends and family members have been victims of violence. The first model for his clothes, Walter Jones, was fatally stabbed. His uncle, Gerald Campbell, was killed in Austin in 1997.
In 2010, his neighborhood friend Jeremy Bagget was fatally shot. Bell said Bagget, 15, routinely played hoops at his house because it was one of the few homes in the neighborhood that had its own basketball rim in the backyard.
Bagget "was shot and killed and had the whole neighborhood in disbelief," Bell said. "He was so young, and I never seen so many of my neighborhood friends so lost. He had such a big heart, and for someone to murder him in cold blood was terrifying. That just showed me that age didn't matter."
Bell was playing basketball at Monmouth College but dropped out midsemester of freshman year after his grandmother, Laurie Philpot, died in a car crash in December 2013.
Bell, who's always loved fashion, started the clothing business shortly thereafter. He said friends told him basketball would be the only way to escape the violence of the West Side, but he was inspired to start his clothing line by the success of his mother, Alice Twitty, who owns and operates Twitty Tots Home Daycare.
Twitty, one of 13 children, grew up in several foster homes. She said Bell's drive mirrors her own.
"I've seen him build his brand from scratch and gain a fan base that didn't seem realistic to those around him," Twitty said. "But as his mother, I knew that if he said he was going to make something happen, then he was going to make something happen."
Bell's business had zero social media followers when he launched. He didn't have money to pay a photographer, so he started posting iPhone pictures he took from his backyard porch of shirts and hats he made. After a while, he put together a website and realized there was a market for his clothes, which include T-shirts, sweaters, jackets and hats.
He now works from home and a studio in Logan Square. In a few months he plans to move to an office. He also employs a photographer and a large pool of models. Most of his orders, Bell said, come from Los Angeles and New York, and he's had buyers from Germany.
"It feels good to know that a kid from a small house on the West Side of Chicago can reach so many people and have them believe in my vision," Bell said.
Bell wants kids from his neighborhood to know that realizing dreams is possible.
"I want to be the individual that breaks the cycle, and I believe that there are kids around me looking up to me, praying that I make it, so they know it's possible," he said. "I want to be a role model and lead."