NORFOLK, Va. — As an undergraduate student at Norfolk State University, Ashley Jones said she noticed a glaring issue on campus.
"I attended Norfolk State from 2011 until 2015," said Jones. "I feel like the university bookstore didn't reflect millennials."
Her desire for representation soon became the launching pad for her career.
"I decided to make my own entity and give the world something that looked like me," Jones said.
She designed streetwear for Historically Black Colleges and Universities nationwide. The clothing line is called Tones of Melanin.
"It wasn't just Norfolk State students who were having this issue," said Jones. "It was a lot of HBCU students that, also, their bookstore didn't represent them. And then, other stores that carried our product, it didn't represent our population."
Jones said the apparel is now in 20 HBCU bookstores and at major retailers.
Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Belk, Syeria Smith, said adding Tones of Melanin to the department store chain's Culture Shop was a no-brainer.
"[The Culture Shop] was really born out of collaboration with myself, senior leadership, and our black employee resource group, presenting the opportunity for us to better reflect the customers and communities that we serve," Smith said. "[Ashley Jones] was so appropriate for us to pursue as a black woman who is an HBCU alum. And so, she has the ability to really take that palpable energy of that HBCU and apply that to her designs."
While Jones said she is proud of the attention her business is getting, she's even prouder of the attention it brings to HBCUs.
"You hear about your Dukes and your UNCs. We want for HBCUs to have that same legacy. Like, people want to go to HBCUs. They want to carry on the tradition within their family," Jones said. "All the culture that a lot of people don't know of, we want to make it bigger and we want to put it on a platform for the world to see."