Greensboro apparel company executive pushes important conversation after social justice unrest

Newsmakers

GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — In my 15 years of interviewing people for these Newsmakers segments, I can’t remember featuring a person who’s had a more versatile career.

Kris Britton is the CEO of Lucky Dog Volleyball, a lifestyle apparel company based in Greensboro. Under her leadership, Lucky Dog got lucky. It secured a multi-million dollar, multi-year contract to be the official championship events merchandiser for USA Volleyball.

“So what we do is we design the merchandise that they (the players and others) would buy in the pro store at championship events,” Britton told me. “USA Volleyball runs four major championships a year, and we are the merchandiser.”

The company has a wide range of products: from t-shirts to sweatshirts. Each is emblazoned with volleyball-related themes.

Welcome to the latest chapter in Britton’s life.

And there are multiple chapters: Parkland High School (Winston-Salem) graduate, undergraduate degree from Appalachian State, two masters degrees from Wake Forest, police officer, middle linebacker for a women’s semi-pro football team, public school teacher/coach/administrator, adjunct college professor, motivational coach and speaker.

Did I leave anything out? Probably. It’s hard to keep up with it all. But through everything listed above is a common thread: a love of young people.

Looking back through the WGHP archive, I found a piece I narrated that featured Britton running the High Point Police Department Summer Academy for at-risk youth.

I also found a piece our sports team did on the Dudley High School (Greensboro) girls basketball team of 2009. It won the North Carolina 3A State Championship that year. Its coach: Kris Britton. It was part of her nearly 10-year career as a teacher, coach and administrator in the Guilford County School System.

Near the end of that period (in 2014) she was approached by a good friend, Maria Byers, who she has known since growing up in Winston-Salem. Byers asked Britton to become CEO of Byers’ company, Lucky Dog Volleyball. Britton has been there ever since.

She says her teaching and coaching skills have really helped while spending time in the business executive learning curve and “coaching” a different type of team.

“I don’t allow them to call me their boss,” she said. “I’m not their boss. I have no interest in telling people what to do. And so I hire people for them to tell me what to do. I hire them for their expertise.”

But no amount of expertise could have prepared Britton and her team for Lucky Dog’s business to plummet during the pandemic. The company survived with the help of government assistance.

But then came the racial and social unrest after the death of George Floyd. Britton felt she needed to join other corporate CEOs in releasing a statement condemning racism.

“So as I was crafting this statement, it occurred to me that the statement would absolutely be everything that I, as an individual, believed and subscribed to,” she told me. “But I could not say whether or not the folks who worked on my team felt the same way.”

So she gathered her Lucky Dog team once a week for what became “race chats.” Everyone was welcome to share and did share his or her feelings about race. She says the chats were candid but effective.

They even led to a new “social justice apparel” line which Lucky Dog hopes to launch on its website soon. The apparel features screen-printed lettering and images that recognize, among other things, the 100th anniversary of The Black Wall Street Massacre in Tulsa. It also features inspirational messages about equality and justice.

Lucky Dog also changed its conversation with its suppliers and other business partners.

“We ask them, ‘what are your policies about race? So you guys discuss race around here? Do you have anything in place to ensure you’re actively being inclusive?’ And you know at first, they look at me like, ‘what does that have to do with screen printing?’” she said.

Britton feels everyone needs to have these conversations for race relations in this country to improve.

“We have to be brave enough. But we must also create safe spaces for those conversations to occur,” she said.

She says it’s also important to be “anti-racist” instead of “not racist.” “Not racist,” she says, means you’re just saying something and not doing anything to address the problem. “Anti-racist” means you’re actively working against racism by—among other things—having these discussions.

It sounds as if we can add “social justice advocate” to that long list of accomplishments.

For more information on Britton’s company, Lucky Dog Volleyball, click here.

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