Despite his disadvantaged upbringing, James Whitner never suffered from a lack of confidence, which came in quite handy when he set out to open his first sneaker boutique now known as Social Status.

The Pittsburgh native opened up about his streetwear journey in the latest episode of the Claima Stories podcast hosted by former Nike marketer Bimma Williams. Whitner recalled his dreams of launching his own retail space, and how his lofty plans were often met with skepticism and doubt.

“In my mind, I was the guy that was … to me, I’m the coolest motherfucker in the world, right?” he said when discussing his initial plans for Flava Factory. “I’ve always had confidence. I’ve never lacked confidence. I come from a place where I’m somebody; so in my mind, I’m like, ‘Yeah, this gonna be Louis Vuitton meets PRPS in an alley and has a baby, and that’s Flava Factory. And at that time, motherfuckers was lookin’ at me, like, ‘Is you high?’”

Whitner would go on to become a major figure in the streetwear game, eventually founding the The Whitaker Group, a network of menswear stores like A Ma Maniére, APB, Prosper, and the aforementioned Social Status. Whitner explained that he wants to use the umbrella company to empower the Black community and “to tell our stories” through fashion and art. 

“I sit in a really strange place because I’m not an ‘influencer,’ nor do I want to be, right?” he said. “I’m curating the world as I see. So I sit as a retailer, and a brand, and a curator, and a visionary of just vibes and just trying to create a world for people who come from where I come from … I’m a kid from the projects. My story is trying to help other kids and kick the door open and create parity in a world so it exists equally for Black folks.”

You can listen to Whitner’s full Claima Stories episode here. The podcast features interviews with leading and rising BIPOC creatives, such as Melody Ehsani and Jeff Staple.