How my HIV status inspired my fashion business and saved my life – Reckon South

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By Daniel Grier

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”  — Dr. Seuss

Growing up a Black, gay man from the South born into a super religious family, my sexuality was always up for discussion—even though, I didn’t know for sure that I was gay until much later. Still, people spread rumors about me my entire childhood and bullied me in school. Everyone was always trying to figure me out. I felt very misunderstood, out of place, like I didn’t belong to any certain group or tribe. I felt like I was always walking around holding my breath.

During those years I was scared of gay people, too. I didn’t understand them, and I didn’t think I fit in with them either. No matter what I would do to blend in or conform to societal norms I would still stand out for just being myself.

Then I found the freedom of fashion. It was really the only place that made sense, the only place where I could just be me.  It’s what came natural to me. It was my comfort and my creative outlet. As a child I would use any fabrics I could find to make outfits that I would imagine top stars wearing on the red carpet. And I’d use my allowance to purchase fashion magazines. My secret weapon has always been my style and the way I dress. I have the eye, as they would say.

Fashion is my superpower. And in 2013, fashion saved my life. In the summer of that same year, as I was finishing up my junior year of college, I went in for a routine checkup and found out I was HIV positive.

I spent the summer on the couch feeling depressed, hopeless, and even suicidal. But I decided not to end my life physically but that I had to end the previous life as I knew it to move forward. I dropped out of college, quit my job, and set out on a completely new path. In the fall of 2013, I founded my clothing brand, Splashed by DKG.

Splashed by DKG gave me purpose again with my first love— fashion. Using my art to build my confidence, I set out to leave my mark on the world. I began adding my signature “Splash” to give new life to garments from vintage stores and friends. I began to create bold art that made people happy and feel like superheroes ready to take on the world. For once, I was able to add value that was appreciated on my terms.  I want people to know that just like I take an old garment and give it a new life, they can also start over in life, paint a new picture, and make a “Splash.” Splashed by DKG not only makes a “Splash” with our designs but we also work to raise awareness of issues like domestic violence, HIV, social injustice, LGBTQ rights, and more.

As my brand rose to popularity, I set out to make another Splash, this time to highlight the diverse but often overlooked talent in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. In 2017, my partner and I co-founded Magic City Fashion Week, an inclusive platform for creatives to showcase and sharpen their skills on the big stage. I wanted people to get a closer look at why I do what I do, how I overcame my struggles, and how I use my voice and platform to amplify others’ voices. To date, MCFW has raised money for HIV awareness, partnered with over 50 Birmingham-based businesses, administered hundreds of HIV tests, hosted programs to better educate people about HIV, highlighted several artists of color, provided funding to emerging designers, and continues to raise the bar for the creative community in the city.

The Splashed by DKG brand has been featured in over 50 fashion shows, four fashion weeks, and a number of blogs and magazines. And my childhood dream of dressing celebrities is coming true, too. Ty Hunter, Tamar Braxton, and Mali Music have all worn my designs. And most recently you can find Splashed by DKG on the cover of Syleena Johnson’s “Woman” album.

I hope my story inspires people to keep going no matter what and to always remember you can’t screw up your destiny. Start over and make a Splash.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Daniel Grier is the founder of Splashed by DKG, a bold, luxury streetwear brand known for its statement prints and custom designs. Daniel also serves as co-founder and creative director of Magic City Fashion Week and is the father of an amazing twelve-year-old son named Aedan.

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