UH’s Lanny Smith behind Nigeria’s Winter Olympic opening ceremony look
When UH basketball alumnus Lanny Smith suffered a career ending injury while on the Sacramento Kings, he turned to his friend Stephen Curry, and created Active Faith, a sportswear company with a Christian lens.
Fast forward a few years later, Team Nigeria donned Active Faith’s sister company, Actively Black, at the 2022 Winter Olympic opening ceremonies, putting a UH alumnus on the forefront of an international platform.
Active Faith and Actively Black
Before starting Actively Black and Active Faith, Smith played basketball for UH from 2003-2008, until he entered the NBA.
“In the NBA, I signed with the Sacramento Kings in 2009 and had… a knee injury that ended my NBA career almost as fast as it began,” Smith said. “And from there, (I) kind of transitioned into becoming an entrepreneur.”
Following his injury, Smith collaborated with his business partner, former Philadelphia 76ers player Anthony Tolliver, and Golden State Warriors player Steph Curry to create Active Faith. After launching in 2012, the brand now has customers in 74 countries, according to Smith.
“It’s a faith-based sports apparel brand,” Smith said. “The concept behind that was to create this faith-based version of Nike, if you will. We had some really great success, with that Inc. Magazine named us one of the fastest growing private companies back in 2017.”
After Active Faith’s initial success, Smith decided it was time to grow his already affluent platform by creating Actively Black. He launched that brand on Black Friday 2020.
“The concept and the mission behind (Actively Black) was, I saw the impact that Active Faith was having on the faith-based community and I wanted to see if I could do the same thing for the Black community, for my community, and create something that could be a positive influence and reinvest back into the Black community,” Smith said.
Now, celebrities like Curry and former President Barack Obama sport the Actively Black line regularly, and Smith’s revenue in his first year alone averaged about $3 million.
2022 Beijing Olympics
With Smith’s growing popularity, he caught the attention of former classmate, Olympian and UH track and field alumna, Seun Adigun. She’s representing Team Nigeria at the Olympics and contacted Smith to design the team’s opening ceremonies look for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The two grew closer after graduation, when Smith originally launched Active Faith.
“(She) was actually in my first photo shoot for Active Faith,” Smith said. “We kept in contact and our friendship has just developed over the years through similar interests and passions. When the time came for her, Team Nigeria was looking for a sponsor, a brand sponsor for the team going into the Winter Olympics.”
So, just a few months after Smith had launched Actively Black, Adigun brought his work to Team Nigeria’s wardrobe.
“I didn’t know how I was going to execute it at the time,” Smith said. “But, this opportunity is a once in a lifetime opportunity to have the brand on that type of stage.”
For the outfits, Smith worked with some experienced designers to create a look that merged the modern, athleisure look that Actively Black has, with the more traditional elements of Nigerian garb.
“The modern and the traditional mix together,” he said. “From the overlay piece that you see, it is called an agbada, and a headpiece, produced in Nigeria, which was very important to have that authentic tie to the outfits.”
With the quick turnaround and a new brand, Smith was initially nervous, but was glad he took the opportunity to put UH on the map.
“I had such a great experience at UH,” Smith said. “I’m proud to be a Cougar and proud to partner with a fellow Cougar, representing not only Actively Black with Nigeria, but also the University on the global stage.”