Willie Harper, building perfection in an imperfect world
By Floco Torres
Even in a world seen through glossy filters, if you gaze closely, you will find out if a moment is authentic or not. Willie Harper, a social worker and co-creator of Akron based Not Perfect Clothing Brand (or NPC), has understood this since he was a child. When Nike made a fusion sneaker known as Jordan Forces (Air Jordan sneakers mixed with Air Force One Nikes), Willie was the only one of his friends who refused to wear them even though they were flying off the shelves. The trend died down shortly after its hot start.
Willie is a born-and-raised Akronite who grew up circling sneakers he wanted in East Bay magazines and finding himself attracted to clothing that wouldn’t go out of style. While in college at Tifton, he asked his parents for staple wardrobe pieces like all white Air Force One Nikes or Wheat Timberlands.
In 2011 during his senior year at UA, he and his friend Thomas McFarland (co-creator of NPC) admired the work of Cleveland clothing brand ILTHY created by Glen Infante. Eager to try something of their own, Willie came up with a T-shirt idea called the Akron Heat, an ode to supporting Lebron James even though he had a new home in Miami. The shirt has a simple design: “Akron” written in the Miami Heat font. Thomas loathed the idea, but Willie printed a few, and the shirt quickly created a buzz. Initially brushing off the chatter, persistence won and they started selling a few.
Eventually, Lebron James caught wind of the shirt and wore it in an Instagram post, which caused a flurry of media rumors suggesting that James was coming back home. Media outlets incorrectly reported that Nike created the shirt, but the Akron Beacon Journal cleared things up, and from there the story spread to other major media outlets.
The increased attention led Willie and Thomas to create the Not Perfect Clothing Brand. Willie says the different types of people he works with inspired the name and that he wanted to make something that could appeal to everyone.
The brand’s early hype presented many learning curves. For instance, Willie isn’t concerned with every design seeing the light of day if it doesn’t move him.
“I’m known for scrapping designs. If it’s not a hit or if I dont think it’s super dope then I wont touch it,” Willie says.
Willie had been using multiple designers to bring his sketches to life before sticking with DJ ILL Will, a graphic designer. They have also learned not to release everything at once. The Not Perfect beanie design was created during the Akron Heat craze but wasn’t released until 2016.
With a new launch coming later this month, the focus for NPC is about reaching new heights.
Willie talks about how the brand’s message on social media and the photo shoots have to look a certain way.
“If you present it right, people will buy it.”
Willie has dreams of being in stores nationwide and selling products at trade shows, but he’s happy with how things have gone thus far. It’s not perfect but it’s the story of all our lives.
NPC will be having throwing a pop-up shop at Flat Hat Club (1683 W Exchange St) on March 10 from 6-8pm. This might be your chance to grab a limited edition piece before they sell out.
(Willie got to give King James an “Akron Heat” shirt himself in front of Diamond Deli downtown back in 2011. Photo courtesy of Willie Harper)