He wasn’t allowed to go to prom, the malls or skate parties. The only card games Brooks Proctor played: Uno and Old Maid.
The first time he got a girl’s phone number, he looked for the dashes on the dial pad. Being the cool kid, he says, just wasn’t the hand he was dealt.
“My mama is Jesus’ cousin,” jokes the 33-year-old Kansas City, Kan., native on the phone from Los Angeles, where he lives. “She didn’t play that. We were in church and school. I was labeled a square.”
Or a square bear. Now, he incorporates his Christian values into the everyday cool of pop culture with his clothing line, Square Bear. Tuesday night, he’ll host a pop-up shop with business partner Asheley Nichole at Escapist in the Crossroads.
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The line, often featuring a square-faced bear, is symbolic of being yourself. He got the idea in the shower a few years ago after doing a small collection of bow ties.
“I wanted to do something different than ties, so the total opposite was to dress it all the way down to a T-shirt. I’ve always been a square, but now it’s cool to be a square and to be yourself. People wear glasses for fun. Even in hip-hop, there is a more positive approach.
“I wanted to make a brand that embraced the quirky and brought some positivity. A lot of T-shirts are vulgar. I wanted to do something that you look at and chuckle, to deliver that one shirt in the closet that you know will give you good vibes.”
Three years ago, he shared the idea with his friend Asheley, a Liberty graphic designer he met on Facebook. She drew a quick sketch on a Post-It note. Square Bear was born.
Since then, the hats, T-shirts, hoodies and jackets have been spotted on everyone from Janelle Monae and Chris Brown to Zendaya and Tyler James Williams. It happened with a little bit of luck and smart networking. Chris Brown saw his shirt on a music producer and wanted one. Brooks, a kids basketball coach, found time to drive a box of gear over to the studio where the pop star was recording.
“He’s the only celebrity that offered to pay for the clothes,” says Brooks, who often sends gear to celebrity stylists. “We took some pictures, and he really looked out.”
But it was Janelle Monae who most touched his heart. Both from KCK, they share a mutual friend. She wore the Square Bear varsity jacket on a radio show and on stage with OutKast, too.
“Andre 3000 is one of my inspirations, one of the people I want to meet before I die,” Brooks says. “To see her on stage, and she is a hometown girl, in my coat dancing with him? It gave me chills. It made me cry.”
Still, Brooks knows he can’t count on celebrity co-signs to carry the brand. The next step: a Square Bear truck that will function as a boutique on wheels. Asheley is moving next month to join him on their venture and “combine superpowers.” Despite the brand’s growing West Coast success, they created a KC-pride collection for the pop-up shop.
“If you don’t go home, you can’t come home,” says Brooks, who was raised on both sides of the state line. “We will always come back and celebrate our city. In L.A., you see people with Kansas City pride. You see them wearing the hats and the colors. We are loud and boisterous with it. And now that our town is winning, people are really turning it up.
“It’s overdue. We have been picked over for so long — in sports, fashion, music, food — we have been a talented city for years. We were just overlooked. It’s nice to see us get the recognition.”
When you think about it, that makes Kansas City kind of a square bear, too.
Square Bear, over there!
The Square Bear pop-up shop, “ Summer School Fresh,” is open 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Escapist Skateboarding, 405 Southwest Blvd., Suite 100. Anyone wearing Square Bear will get a Hall Pass (10 percent off). mysquarebear.com