Even before studying the arts in college, Gary Williams, Jr. remembers his father always carrying a camera around, taking pictures everywhere he went. His dad was a hobbyist, but Williams wanted to pursue work in a creative field full-time.
It’s fitting, then, that after seven years as a government contractor, Williams met his now-business partner Tamon George. Together, they formed what is now Creative Theory Agency — an award-winning marketing firm that focuses on helping companies craft more inclusive and authentic brand identities. Small but mighty, their team of around 20 has brought on powerhouse clients from Facebook and Google to Netflix and YouTube.
Now, Williams and George are taking their passion for promoting diversity IRL with a new concept called Gift Shop. Opened in the Union Market District earlier this year, Gift Shop provides a brick-and-mortar shopping location featuring a rotating collection of Black-owned brands and products.
“We believe in supporting Black businesses,” George says. “We believe in supporting Black entrepreneurs, and the same way that we kind of had to take a leap of faith, our thought is that if we can do anything in our power to help people, take that same leap it is our responsibility to do so. That was kind of how we extended ourselves into the Gift Shop.”
Gift Shop features home goods, clothing, wallets, candles and more. Some highlights include work by the Nigerian fashion concept brand RiverisWild, which sells clothing that is “a constant exploration of esoteric Africa.” For dads, Gift Shop sells special leather backpacks made by Journacy. “Once you open the top flap, there’s a message to Black fathers, which is really cool,” Williams says. “After people open that flap and they read the message on it — it’s like the selling point, most people buy the bag after that, and it’s very well made.”
An innovative space, Gift Shop doesn’t just serve as a … shop. It also functions as the headquarters for Creative Theory Agency, and both co-founders speak passionately about how they envision the space as a community pillar.
“It’s always been part of the mission, to make the Gift Shop a community space. What we really have fallen in love with is this idea that people feel that they belong in this particular place,” says George. “We know we’re in a neighborhood that is changing rapidly, and one of the things that we’re combating, even by simply existing here in this space, is showing folks that we belong — we have a place we have a place to call our own, and we have a place to celebrate and exist the way that we see fit.”
“Ultimately, we’re just going to make sure that our community knows that this place exists, and that everybody has an equal share, equal investment, and a right to exist here in this way.”
An equal right for makers to take up space in the Gift Shop is a part of the company’s ethos, and anyone interested in submitting their brand to display in the space is encouraged to do so. It’s this feeling of inclusion and encouragement that George says is what he loves about the Washington, DC, community. “It’s really apparent here that people not only have big dreams that they’re willing to work towards — they also show up for the people around them and make sure that everybody knows, and has an opportunity to thrive.”
This article was featured in the InsideHook DC newsletter. Sign up now for more from the Beltway.