Olajuwon Ajanaku & Earl Cooper Talk Eastside Golf Streetwear Brand
Eastside Golf is here to bridge the gap between golf and hip-hop. The streetwear brand was founded in November of 2019 by business partners Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl Cooper, both who have been in love with the sport since they can remember. Fast forward to 2020, that same passion and dedication remains stronger than ever.
Hailing from Atlanta, Ajanaku is a former professional golf player turned fashion designer, who earned a scholarship to Morehouse College where he went on to win the National Championship.
Earl Cooper, who is from Delaware, is Class A PGA Professional, currently ranked as one of the best young teachers in the United States.
Together, they plan to provide a solution on how golf is introduced to hip-hop lovers around the world.
The premise of the brand is to make golf more diverse and inclusive, in other words “cool.”
Both pride themselves in the authenticity of their work, which is directly inspired by the late, great Nipsey Hussle. They state, “we want representation and to own our culture!”
The brand has since seen much success, catching the attention of celebrities Anthony Anderson, Kevin Liles, and Uncle Luke.
Eastside Golf’s logo itself represents the new generation golfer, depicting an African-American male who’s gold chain swings freely as he swings the golf club.
For Ajanaku, it’s a reflection of his experiences at both private clubs and public courses — as he swings the club with his gold link chain visible at all times.
AllHipHop caught up with the Eastside Golf founders via FaceTime, who were both out and about on the golf course.
AllHipHop: Earl & Olajuwon, how did you guys meet each other?
Olajuwon: After I graduated Cedar Grove High School in Atlanta, I went to Benedict College in South Carolina. I did a year there as a freshman, great college career, then I transferred to Morehouse and was playing on a golf team there. At the same time, Earl transferred to Morehouse.
Earl: I transferred from Wilmington University, then we met at Morehouse. My first year on the team, we won the Championship.
AllHipHop: How was it winning the National Championship at Morehouse College?
Olajuwon: It was a great experience, we had a great year that year honestly. We’re on TV, the whole nine.
AllHipHop: When did you first come up with the concept of Eastside Golf?
Olajuwon: It’s honestly only been a year now, my birthday June 1st was when I finally came up with the concept. I was in banking and I wanted to play golf. I had to come up with a logo that represented myself. I made that logo, made the name Eastside Golf because I’m from East Atlanta. He said “hey you need to put that on the shirt,” I’m like okay. Put it on a shirt, probably got asked about it 20 times in one day. I thought “I need to do something with this.” There were shirts, sweatshirts, hats, the rest was history.
Earl: I’m a PGA professional. Being in and around the game, it stood out to me. To Olajuwon’s point, the reception. People determine what’s a hit and what’s hot. The way people have gravitated to it has been unbelievable. All we need is exposure. It’s not a matter of trying to come up with a new concept, it’s literally getting it out in front of people. Once they see it, they naturally gravitate to it because there’s nothing compared to it. There’s nothing in the golf industry speaking to the culture.
AllHipHop: The brand’s mantra is to “continuously inspire culture, promote diversity in golf and be authentic.” Why’s that important for you?
Olajuwon: It’s important to me to stay authentic because people can get the gist of our culture. It can rub off into golf or it can change golf. It can bring the next generation in to come up with new ideas. On top of that when you get out on the golf course, it can teach them networking. A lot of things they can use in life.
Earl: I’ll be honest for too long, I wasn’t authentic. I wasn’t myself. You go into a corporate environment where you have to be a certain way, act a certain way, wear a certain attire. Olajuwon always says this quote: the reason why we’re so successful is because we’re authentic. That’s sometimes cliche but what’s going on in the golf world, we as young African American males have always tried to fit into the golf world. I’m always saying “bro, that was the problem.” We are cool, we represent what’s cool. We represent the culture so let’s be ourselves, instead of trying to emulate this guy or that guy, this 50-year-old white male or this young guy who grew up on the golf course. No, neither one of us comes from a country club background or have a bunch of family members who play golf. We love hip-hop. At the end of the day, we’re listening to Roddy Ricch.
AllHipHop: Talk about your love for hip-hop on top of the golf.
Earl: I definitely rock out with Meek Mill. Being from Philly, the underdog. Championships, Meek is that dude.
Olajuwon: Me being from East Atlanta, Gucci for sure. Zone 6 all day. T.I., Jeezy, 2 Chainz, a lot of Atlanta rappers.
Earl: Hov obviously is the GOAT, his maturation and grown man waves. Golf, they don’t know about us. I honestly think he’d be comfortable taking a lesson, going to the golf course like “oh shit, these guys are fun.” We don’t have to learn this whole thing, just go out there and have a good time.
AllHipHop: Thoughts on the underrepresentation of golf in hip-hop?
Earl: It’s a huge opportunity, that’s how we look at it. It’s a crown jewel that hasn’t been presented in the right way. Not to be this blunt, but golf is our lane. Everyone’s trying to be the same, it’s carbon copies of each other. We’re coming out with different swag, that’s what makes our brand catch on. 1) It’s different. 2) It’s exclusive, hard to get. A lot of our stuff is backordered so everyone doesn’t have it. We’re going to start to release limited edition pieces. Once every month, we’ll come out with a limited edition hat. You see it a lot in shoe culture, but we’re going to do it in the clothing culture and also represent golf at the same time.
AllHipHop: How’d you bring awareness to the brand and promote yourselves?
Earl: It’s our network. One of our mentors Wendell Haskins was originally in the hip-hop space, he was Puff’s roommate when he first got out of college. He worked for Andre Harrell, Uptown Records, Bad Boy. He started a golf tournament 20 years ago called The Original Tee Golf Classic. They’d get a bunch of record executives and people in the music industry to play golf. He had a lot of connections, that’s how we got to Anthony Anderson, Kevin Liles, and Uncle Luke. It’s all organic. “Yo, you think Anthony would rock with this?” Yeah, here’s his address. Send him something. We sent him something, he’d pop up and post it.
Earl: Two days later, he’s wearing the hat with it on. On Mother’s Day, he had the hat on.
AllHipHop: Is Anthony a golfer?
Earl: He is. Kevin’s a golfer. Anthony posted and commented on Kevin’s page like “yo what’s up with the plug?” We hit him offline, he said “here’s my address, send me some stuff.” He did a 360 UNPLUGGED and was wearing the shirt on YouTube Live. They’ve all been very supportive, it’s been super organic. We send people stuff and they want to wear them. It markets itself. The awareness has been contagious. Our conversion rate is crazy. 7 out of 10 people are going to say something about the brand, 5 out of 10 are going to buy something. 3 out of 10 are loyal fans, following us on all our streams.
AllHipHop: How was it transitioning into an entrepreneur role?
Olajuwon: It’s really our backgrounds. Me being in the banking space, I was in construction finance. Earl running the whole organization. [laughs]
Earl: I got a bunch of hats. My biggest hat was I co-founded this thing called HBCU Week, which is a national organization. In 3 years, we grew it to having partners like ESPN, NFL, Bank of America, Stephen A. Smith is our official ambassador. Affected thousands of kids' lives by giving them scholarships to college, a huge program. It’s ironic, I told Olajuwon “this reminds me a lot of HBCU Week. The way that people are gravitating to it, how quickly...” I used my learning experience to help accelerate this.
Our social media strategy: when we get the momentum, it’s hard to create it but the biggest thing is you have to sustain it. Olajuwon’s always been really good with the personal touch. Right now, we’re small enough to write handwritten letters to every person. People don’t really get that type of touch. That’s going to make them appreciate the brand, be a returning customer, post it on social media. It’s a safe haven honestly.
There’s a collective of black golfers saying “yo, I’ve been waiting on this. I love this game, but there’s nothing fly. Finally, I got something fly I can wear on and off the golf course.” You look at Olajuwon wearing that hat but at night, it could be a dude at Compound Nightclub or any club across America with that same hat on. That never happened before.
AllHipHop: What are your favorite pieces and why?
Olajuwon: Mine is so far is the grey sweatshirt, the first true piece I came out with. It’s our staple piece. It symbolizes original, authentic, and diversity. That’s how I thought of it when I came up with it.
Earl: I agree, the grey sweatshirt hasn’t gotten old. That’s the one that got us in the market, got people’s attention and still is getting attention. That’s our Erewhon. Olajuwon always looked at it as a real brand, not a mom and pop t-shirt thing. It’s going to be here for the end of time.
AllHipHop: Talk about being inspired by Nipsey Hussle.
Olajuwon: Him always speaking on being authentic to yourself. Always speaking to have your brand and have your own, then grow it on there. Make your partner look like geniuses.
Earl: Yeah, that’s our famous line.
Olajuwon: He inspired me so much. The way I look at Eastside Golf is literally act like I’m from East Atlanta. Keep that same attitude while running a professional business and being an entrepreneur, but stick to where you’re from and it’ll show. Authentic selves, that’s why I take after Nipsey.
Earl: For Nip, it’s ownership. We have to own our culture. I saw a couple brands starting to be similar to hip-hop, but they’re not of the culture. They don’t represent us. You had people introducing these cool pieces, they’re going crazy but we’ve been doing that shit. That shit’s old. All y’all doing is remaking some shit this brand had or that brand had. We have to own this shit. We make it cool. Nip inspired us to really own the brand and own the culture, that’s why people gravitate to it.
AllHipHop: How do you view how golf is portrayed in Hollywood?
Earl: It’s been a disservice because too often, minorities and especially African Americans are always extremes. It’s never been your middle golfer like myself, not on TV. Not a professional golfer, but I’m not the worst golfer either. It’s never been somebody that’s cool, somebody who can compete at a high level but amongst amateurs. It’s either the movie of The Legend of Bagger Vance where Will Smith was a caddy, or you’re Tiger Woods. Or Big Boi out on the golf course in a big Kangol hat, it’s corny. You never see a true authentic black hip-hop experience when it comes to golf. It’s these extremes where we’re the help or we’re selling out at the top. Neither one of us are the help. He’s cool, I’m cool, we’re right in the middle. We’re average, that’s why people are gravitating too. You’re the help or you have to be the best, that’s all I’ve seen.
AllHipHop: Goals you have for your brand?
Olajuwon: Being able to give away scholarships at some point. Being able to give back to HBCUs and being able to grow HBCU golf teams as well.
Earl: Another one would be collaborations. We look forward to working with larger brands, we’ve been talking to some now. Especially with the George Floyd situation, where this country is, a lot of people are looking like “okay, how are we talking to that community right now?” Being black men, we’re a part of that community. We’re holding ourselves accountable.
I’m literally right now in a fight with PGA of America to do right by the black community, not come out with some statement. I had an hour and half phone conversation today with leadership like “no, you gotta treat us right.” It’s not a statement, it’s real resources to commit to. We look to grow the game. Really get more young professionals involved in the game from diverse backgrounds because too often, these folks are sitting on the sidelines. If you have friends who work in corporate environments, if golf comes up as an opportunity, they have to miss out on the opportunity. That’s not cool, they’re handling business out there. You don’t have to be good, most of the people aren’t good. You’re missing opportunities because you’re misinformed. You have Olajuwon representing the cool, somebody like myself who’s one of the best teachers in America. When you bring together, you’ll feel good and feel confident. You’re not going to sit on the sidelines.
AllHipHop: Anything else you want to let us know?
Earl: This brand is definitely going to change the game forever.
Earl: We stay true to our community, which is a diverse community. A lot of white people buy our stuff. We treat them like family. We’d never want to turn our backs on them or feel like we’re selling out on them, that’s not how we got here. Although these big brands are approaching us, it’s not about that. We’re not looking for short-term sellout, we’re looking for long-term partners that can truly grow and make a real lasting commitment.
Olajuwon: Couldn’t have said it better Earl.
Earl: My man, that’s why we work so well together.