Pair put their faith in the shoe business

July 05, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Vernon Woodland was the shorter one, sporting the red shirt, black pants and fly black athletic shoes with red trim running around the base.

Near the ankle, a straight red line ran from the bottom of the shoe to the top, intersecting a red circle with the letter "T" written in black.

Leonard Wood was the taller one. Both took seats Monday afternoon in the mezzanine at Lexington Market and tried to talk amid the din of people enjoying a pre-holiday lunch break.

Woodland, 25, was, well, kind of making a fashion statement with his shoes. But he was doing more than that.

He was making a business statement.

The shoes are called T3 Alphas. No, they're not as famous as Air Jordans or Air Force Ones and aren't produced by companies like Nike, Adidas or Reebok. Chances are you've never heard of T3 Alphas. But if Wood and Woodland have anything to do with it, that will soon change.

The T3 Alpha is a shoe they designed and developed. It's their idea. It's part of the business they started two years ago called the Trinity Corporation. Yes, the name "T3" does come from the name of their company. And yes, they chose the name for religious reasons.

"It's because of our faith," Wood said. "We're both Christians."

So today, readers, you get to hear a type of story that critics of the media say we focus on all too seldom, if at all - that of two young black men with religious convictions who aren't involved in criminal activity, but in starting their own business.

Wood is 33 and a graduate of Baltimore's Northern High School, which he admits was "terrible" when he attended. You could get the impression when talking to Wood that he survived Northern as much as graduated from it.

But he didn't let attending what was, at the time, one of the worst high schools in the city derail his plans for the future.

Woodland is an alumnus of the M.M. Washington Career High School in Washington and attended the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. He and Wood met five years ago. Both were involved in cable services for sales and marketing companies when they met.

"We saw we were basically making other people a whole lot of money," Wood said. So they went against the advice of friends and associates who told them starting their own business would be difficult and risky and formed the Trinity Corporation.

"Starting the business wasn't the hard part," Wood said. "Keeping the business is the hard part."

It was in January that Wood and Woodland were in a shoe store - both have a passion for basketball - and noticed the sky-high prices for some brands of shoes.

"There were no fashionable, affordable shoes in the store," Woodland recalled. "Everything was expensive." Both men figured they could come up with their own shoe that was just as fashionable but lower in price.

They drew up designs for their ideal basketball shoe. Then they sat down at a computer and Googled every shoe company they could and asked some if they would make samples of their shoe, which would sell for about $79.95.

We contacted Nike, Adidas and Reebok," Woodland said. "They didn't want to partner up with us. I guess because we were nobodies."

But a company called Nice Fit China Limited - located in the People's Republic of China - did. Wood and Woodland e-mailed folks there in December. About one or two days later, as Wood and Woodland recollect, they got a return e-mail from Nice Fit.

"They said they would be happy to do a sample for us," Woodland said. The first few samples weren't up to Wood and Woodland's specifications and were returned. But in April, Nice Fit sent the right sample. The Trinity Corporation duo are now negotiating with area shoe stores to stock enough T3 shoes so that they'll be ready for sale the day after Thanksgiving.

If they're successful, Wood and Woodland already know what they're going to do with profits from sales of the shoes, which are part of Trinity Collection - a subsidiary of the Trinity Corporation that specializes in a shoe and clothing line. Trinity Communications is another Trinity Corporation subsidiary that focuses on cable sales and marketing.

Trinity Entertainment Plaza is in the planning stages. Money for it, Wood and Woodland hope, will come from sales of T3 basketball shoes. Wood and Woodland want the site for the plaza to be in Prince George's County. A partial list of attractions the plaza will have include a movie complex, bowling, arcade games, a poetry and comedy club, a kids' fun zone and miniature golf.

The pair say they have plenty of ideas, but need a mentor. So far, they haven't found one, but they remain determined.

"If it's your passion, do it," is Wood's message for young blacks who want to start their own business.

These young men have filled me with a passion to make a late November run to a shoe store to buy a pair of T3s.

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