By Elisa Xu
Megan Banias, 30, of Chicago’s Brickyard/Belmont Cragin neighborhood, launched her online clothing company, Chicago for Keeps, in the summer of 2020. The racial reckoning that began that summer — sparked by the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others in encounters with police – made her realize she wanted to give back to black communities in Chicago.
Learning an embroidery hobby from her mother during the pandemic gave her the opportunity to do just that. Her handcrafted clothing boutique donates a portion of profits to local Chicago nonprofits that empower these communities.
MEGAN BANIAS: My name is Megan Ray Banias, and I’m the owner and CEO, or founder, of Chicago for Keeps.
NARRATION: Chicago for Keeps, Banias’ online clothing brand, started in the summer of 2020. Protests against police brutality spread across the United States following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Banias had moved in with his parents in Chicago to self-quarantine and explained to them what was happening and why the Black Lives Matter movement was important.
MEGAN BANIAS: And I remember my mom was really struggling to grasp the concept, but she started to get it. And then all of a sudden, she was like, “Oh, yeah, like, we have to do something to give back.” They both have pre-existing conditions so due to COVID I wasn’t going to protest. But I thought I wanted to do a bit of protest in a way that suited me and in a more sustainable way.
NARRATION: And so, Chicago for Keeps, an apparel company that donates a portion of profits to local nonprofits to support Chicago’s black communities, opened in July 2020. The online store sells everything , from t-shirts and hoodies to tote bags and hats. All pieces are embroidered by Banias and his mother.
NARRATION: Banias’ mother, Lucia Banias — or Mama B, as others call her — has been embroidering for 10 years. When her daughter also took up this hobby, embroidered clothing became the focus of this endeavor to uplift Chicago communities.
LUCIA BANIAS: It’s my passion. And you know, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I retire. So, I think about this type of hobby, that I buy a machine. And then after that, I just like to do custom stuff. Well, everyone liked it. And besides, since my daughter is with me, you know, she’s interested in doing this. And she said, “Mom, why don’t we do like business or something, you know?”
NARRATION: Besides Chicago for Keeps, Megan Banias’ full-time job involves working in investments for the nonprofit sector.
MEGAN BANIAS: So, I get that, you know, you put your work first and then see the feedback later.
NARRATION: She thought if there were influential clothing brands that were charging high prices to make a profit, why couldn’t she design her own clothes and use the profits to invest in non-profit organizations Chicago profit making important work?
MEGAN BANIAS: These very small micro-organizations that are really the ones in your neighborhood, that distribute diapers, or feed the homeless, or help empower girls or teenage girls in your local elementary school. These are the organizations that really need help. And they are the ones who really make a significant difference for the benefit of the community.
NARRATION: Chicago for Keeps donates to local nonprofits that Banias volunteered with, as well as organizations that his clients recommend. A few of these grassroots nonprofits include Gyrls In The HOOD; Taste for the homeless; and coffee, hip hop and mental health.
MEGAN BANIAS: What I really create is like a company that basically invests. Invest in non-profits, which actually do the work because I’m just one person and can’t do it.
NARRATION: When it comes to clothing, Chicago for Keeps designs are clean and minimalist, with warm colors like light blue, pink and gray. While Banias originally wanted universal designs with the Chicago for Keeps logo, she is now branching out to create designs that celebrate her Filipino heritage.
MEGAN BANIAS: I find a lot of inspiration in where I come from and in the language I speak. Since my mom helps me, something she can relate to too, the designs she can relate to are like the Filipino words we have on the store.
NARRATION: Banias grew up in Chicago and has lived there most of his life. Although she lived in other places, she always found her way back to the Windy City. Although there are parts of Chicago she wants to help change, her appreciation for the city motivates her to stay and continue to invest in local communities through her business.
MEGAN BANIAS: Chicago, if you ever called it home, grew up here, or lived here for a while, it still has a place in your heart. Chicago is forever! It’s yours forever, no matter what. Even if you move, even if you still live here, it will still have a place with you, and let’s improve it. And do not forget !
Elisa Xu is in the Magazine major at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @ElisaXu7.