08/24/13 8:00am
08/24/2013 8:00 AM

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | Anthony Harris of Riverhead formed a clothing company called LIRClothing, which stands for Loyalty is Royalty. The emoticon image has been his most popular design so far.

Inspiration can come at any time. Even in a dream.

The night was still dark when Anthony Harris awoke last Friday to the vision of a design.

“I’ve been up since 4:30 trying to figure it out in my head,” he said.

For Mr. Harris, the designer and founder of LIRClothing, building a business from the ground up has proved to be all-consuming.

“It’s 24/7,” Mr. Harris said.

A lifelong Riverhead resident, Mr. Harris, 30, formed the clothing company in February 2012. Since then, his T-shirts, tank tops and sweatshirts have begun appearing in a dozen stores across Long Island. His designs have also caught the attention of rappers 50 Cent and Jadakiss, actor Jackie Long and NBA player Stephen Jackson.

The clothing line is called “Loyalty is Royalty,” a message Mr. Harris hopes can inspire people in the community. His goal, he said, is to change people’s outlook on Riverhead and bring a positive message to the community.

“We’ve got a lot of negative outlook along Riverhead because of the crimes and the violence,” Mr. Harris said.

COURTESY PHOTO | Rapper 50 Cent was the first celebrity spotted wearing an LIRClothing shirt.

A promotional video on his company’s website ends with a tribute to Demitri Hampton, a Riverhead High School graduate who was killed earlier this year during a Flanders home invasion. Mr. Harris was recently a sponsor of the Stop the Violence Basketball Tournament at the Riverhead Town court on Horton Avenue. He’s also planning a school community event for Sept. 1 in the park on Doctor’s Path, where he’ll give away backpacks, T-shirts and books, he said.

“Just connect with the kids before school starts,” Mr. Harris said of the timing of the event. “Help the underprivileged kids, their parents and get them off the school year started right.”

Before starting LIRClothing, Mr. Harris worked at Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch with at-risk youths. He earned an associate degree from Suffolk Community College and always had a knack for design, he said. And people have always admired the way he dressed.

He designed a shirt, never thinking it would lead to a clothing business. But people quickly took to the design.

In the early stages of developing his clothing line, Mr. Harris realized it would take a grassroots effort to build the brand. He used social media to promote his company and shopped his clothes from one store to another, trying to convince an owner to take a chance on selling his product. He traveled with a trunk full of merchandise.

Selling clothes to stores became much easier once Mr. Harris had images of celebrities sporting his gear.

“At first it was real, real hard,” he said. “Now it’s a lot easier.”

Mr. Harris met 50 Cent at a book signing in Queens in March and offered him a T-shirt. After handing him the shirt, he turned to walk away when 50 Cent asked if he was the designer. 50 Cent said he really liked the design; he had his stylist and assistant take down Mr. Harris’ information.

A few weeks later, Mr. Harris got to promote his clothing line in an interview on the 50 Cent-run website, thisis50.com.

“Ever since then he’s been wearing my clothing,” Mr. Harris said. “I was really excited about it. It really helped business a lot. I couldn’t thank him enough for that.”

Mr. Harris used Twitter to reach Stephen Jackson, who was playing for the San Antonio Spurs. Mr. Jackson asked for a few shirts and has been wearing them ever since.

“He’s been nothing but very supportive,” Mr. Harris said.

Mr. Harris can remember the first time he saw someone wearing the shirt on TV. He got a call from his cousin in Florida, who told him to flip on BET.

“When I turned it on it seemed like the commercials were an hour long,” he said. “When it came on, I saw the DJ with my shirt on. I have no idea how he got the shirt. After that I thanked him on Twitter.”

The most popular design so far has been an emoticon with stitched lips and closed eyes. Mr. Harris even got it tattooed on his right forearm. The shirt 50 Cent wore featured the emoticon design on black and white camouflage.

While Mr. Harris designs the shirts, a longtime neighbor with experience in the clothing industry works on the printing end. Jimmy Montoya, who now lives in Nassau County, became a great source for insight, Mr. Harris said.

“He’s given me a lot of knowledge,” he said. “He stopped me from making me mistakes that I shouldn’t make. He let me make some mistakes so I can learn on my own.”

Mr. Harris has designed dozens of shirt styles. One of his newest designs pays tribute to Trayvon Martin and has been a big hit. The shirt features a silhouette of a man in a hooded sweatshirt with the words “Born Suspicious” written across the top.

Mr. Harris said the message isn’t so much about Trayvon Martin specifically, but how people judge others based on the way they look.

“Everyone should look at everyone like a human being,” he said.

Looking ahead, Mr. Harris said he hopes to expand his brand beyond shirts while taking the line national and global. He’s also hoping to put together summer camps for kids.

“I want them to have options in life,” he said.

joew@timesreview.com