As teenagers across the Valley eagerly await winter break, 14-year-old Kumei Norwood has the holiday shopping season on her mind. It’s the busiest time of the year for small business owners like her.
As owner of Tofu Tees, a shop inside Fergusons Downtown, Norwood runs a tight ship. When she isn’t manning the registers with her parents, Tiarre and Devon, she’s designing new bracelets and pins, and brainstorming thought-provoking slogans for her next set of T-shirts and hats. That’s between studying art sculpture at Las Vegas Academy—and listening to her classmates gripe about their first jobs.
Norwood founded Tofu Tees at age 8, after she and her mother found an old childhood notebook with a message that read: “Why Are Peepl So Sensitiv?” Finding it humorous, they started designing and selling T-shirts featuring the phrase. As Tofu Tees grew in popularity, Norwood brought her business to Market in the Alley with more creations. She moved into her brick-and-mortar store last December, her parents co-signing on the lease and handing her the keys.
“It was always a goal for me,” Norwood says. “I didn’t think I’d get one this fast and this young, but I always wanted to have a store or somewhere I could put my stuff out.”
Recently, Norwood’s creative energy has shifted to expressions of activism, with her apparel designs now reflecting the social issues she encourages others to think more deeply about.
“My parents always tell me about things that are happening around me, so I’ve been really conscious about that,” she says. “During the pandemic, it was really hitting me and affecting me so much. My mental health had just gone crazy because of everything happening. And I was like, I can’t be the only one feeling like this. I wanted a way to show how I’m feeling.”
Inside the shop, you can find Black Lives Matter bracelets, pins for women’s rights, Ruth Bader Ginsburg coloring books and tees that say “Racism Is Trash” and “Social Issues Are Not Trends.”
Some customers respond negatively to the BLM messaging, but Norwood says she expected that. “Everybody has different opinions,” she says, “but this is just me.”
In 2020, the young entrepreneur organized a Kids Against Racism Rally in North Las Vegas during a time when tensions were at their highest. Hundreds turned out, and Norwood interviewed kids for hand-designed zines she created, highlighting their feelings around racism and the future. Photos taken by local photographer Anthony Mair were also included in the zines.
Norwood says the experience made her feel a little less alone as a teen seeing the world struggle. Some weren’t as happy about the rally, however, and let her parents know it.
“People on Facebook were like, ‘Why is your child doing this? Your child shouldn’t know about what’s going on right now,’” Norwood says. “We should know. It’s our future that’s being built.”
The teen shows little signs of letting up on her mission, despite whatever additional headwinds she might face.
“When people walk in here, I just want them to see that you don’t really have to hide how you’re feeling,” she says. “Even if you feel like people will judge you, even if they don’t buy anything, I just want them to see my messages.”
TOFU TEES 1028 Fremont St. #109, tofutees.weebly.com. Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
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