By Nick Elliott

For The Diamondback

When Under Armour founder Kevin Plank spoke to the University of Maryland football team in 2018, Ikechukwu Ogwuegbu saw parallels between Plank and himself.

“I felt like he was me in previous years,” Ogwuegbu said. “In my head, when I know that I am similar to somebody, I know that I can compete with them.”

Ogwuegbu, who played running back for this university’s football team from 2016-18, said while football was always his priority, he knew he had the talent for more impactful ventures.

Now, the Hyattsville native leads an activewear business and a nonprofit as he hopes not only to expand his entrepreneurial initiatives, but also fight for social justice causes.

Ogwuegbu said he always had an interest in entrepreneurship.

He sold candy in elementary school and rapped in pencil pouch commercials in his middle school creative and performing arts program, he said. But Ogwuegbu ultimately decided to pursue football in high school and at this university.

“I’ve benefited from being a part of many teams in my life and you can learn from sports,” Ogwuegbu said. “I tried to adopt a lot of the things that I learned from being an athlete with the way that I operate in the real world.”

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After arriving at this university, Ogwuegbu maintained a passion to play the sport he loved, but Plank’s speech reaffirmed his pursuit of a different avenue.

Ogwuegbu began to lay the groundwork for his own activewear brand in 2018, he said.

He began to share ideas and prototypes with friends and family, including his teammates.

His teammates were his first customers because they could test the activewear thoroughly given their activity level, Ogwuegbu said.

Ty Johnson, a former running back at this university and current Buffalo Bills running back, was Ogwuegbu’s teammate and roommate. Johnson said he often tested Ogwuegbu’s products and that the latter asked questions about the brand’s style.

Johnson said he initially had doubts about Ogwuegbu’s idea to found a clothing line but maintained confidence in his roommate and provided feedback on the brand.

“It’s doing really well, and I’m really proud of him for sticking with it,” Johnson said. “He’s always asking questions because he always wants to keep bettering himself.”

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In winter 2019, Ogwuegbu officially launched his activewear company — Veii Apparel.

The Prince George’s County-based business sells active apparel, including sweatshirts, pants, shirts and leggings.

Ogwuegbu said the business is looking to expand into specialized apparel, such as running and football training gear.

Ogwuegbu hopes the company will be more impactful than Under Armour with a focus on building community and social equity.

“I really wanted to have a brand that focused on just being the best version of yourself,” Ogwuegbu said. “Then allowing yourself to have rippling effects on, say, your team or your community or your world.”

The company has partnered with a gymnastics club in Uganda — Kataka Arts, The club provides training, food and shelter to underserved youth.

In a video on his YouTube channel, Ogwuegbu said he discovered the club on Instagram where he saw kids performing gymnastics barefoot on a landfill.

“We have so many violent things in our community, and most of the kids we have, they’re coming from the street,” Lugolobi Faizo, the vice president and coach at Kataka Arts, said.

Ogwuegbu helped provide funding for food, uniforms and advice on how to better structure the program, Faizo said.

Ogwuegbu also launched a fundraiser for the program that raised more than $7,000.

In the United States, Veii Apparel has sponsored youth football camps and partnered with the nonprofit Moms & Me. The partnership donates a part of Veii Apparel’s profits from the sale of a specific design of shorts to help fight period poverty, according to the company’s website.

Ogwuegbu hopes that customers not only buy Veii for its quality, but also its message.

“The product matters, the quality of the product matters, and what you sell matters. But what it represents to people is what matters the most,” Ogwuegbu said.