For years, Antoine Manning had been ruminating on what the future looked like for him. He saw possibilities in becoming a teacher or police officer, feeling the pressure to choose a more conventional career over the creative aspirations he formed as a kid reading manga with his brother Courtney. Then in 2014, their father passed unexpectedly. It was a pivotal moment for Manning, a realization of sorts. Life is ephemeral, why live it without fulfilling your dream? 

He’s been dedicated to his creative pursuits ever since. 

Now, at 23 years old, Manning is running his brand Homage Year, home of the up-and-coming It bag, the Ova, and one of Complex’s Brands to Watch for 2022. Crafted in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ova bag’s distinct shape is rooted in the notion of transformation. Taking notes from the organic shape of an egg, Manning wanted the bag to instill the possibility of new life, of change, at a time where having hope was in vain. “When I created the bag, it was COVID. Everything felt really weird. I wanted to create something that was fun, that was organically shaped, that was almost like a refresh,” he says. “The time felt almost like an egg, a rebirth of the new life that we’re gonna go into. I just wanted to bring a sort of refresh and new age symbolically through this bag.” 

Although the bag was first released in 2021, the brand has been a work in progress since 2015 when it was first brought to life with a small drop of statement tees. It began as an expression of grief, a creative outlet for Manning to cope with the death of his father, as well as others close to him that passed along the way. To this day, Manning has a list of dates memorializing the deceased in his Instagram bio—a reminder of why the brand exists. “My grandma, she often says two of the most important words in the Bible are ‘come’ and ‘remember,’’ says Manning. “That’s just really what it is, is to remember everything that we’ve been through, but also like paying homage to the people that we’ve lost along the way.”

During his time at Georgia State University, where he studied painting, Manning continued to pursue design to express himself. He added hoodies, tees, hats, and jewelry to his repertoire, building a local community of followers at school. Merch was emblazoned with the quote “I Have No Words,” a callback to expressing oneself through art, not words. The Homage Year logo decorated bandanas and boxers, and was even the pendant on a series of necklaces and earrings. “I started selling clothes on campus. I had friends in all sects of the school that supported the brand. I got to see the brand start to create some type of community for people despite the backgrounds that they had,” says Manning.