By Elisa Xu
Megan Banias, a 30-year-old from Chicago’s Brickyard/Belmont Cragin neighborhood, started her online clothing company, Chicago for Keeps, during the summer of 2020. The racial reckoning that began that summer — sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others in encounters with police — made her realize she wanted to give back to Black communities in Chicago.
Picking up an embroidery hobby during the pandemic from her mother gave her the opportunity to do just that. Her hand-designed clothing store donates a portion of proceeds to local Chicago nonprofits empowering these communities.
MEGAN BANIAS: My name is Megan Ray Banias, and I am the owner and CEO, or founder, of Chicago for Keeps.
NARRATION: Chicago for Keeps, Banias’ online clothing brand, started during the summer of 2020. Protests against police brutality spread across the United States after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Banias had moved in with her parents in Chicago to quarantine and was explaining to them what was going on, and why the Black Lives Matter movement was important.
MEGAN BANIAS: And I remember my mom was really having a hard time grasping the concept, but she started catching along. And then suddenly, she was like, “Oh, yeah, like, we need to do something about giving back.” They both have preexisting conditions, so due to COVID, I was not going to protest. But I figured that I wanted to do a little bit of protesting in a way that I was comfortable, and in a more sustainable way.
NARRATION: And so, Chicago for Keeps, a clothing business that donates a portion of proceeds to local nonprofits to support Black communities in Chicago, opened in July 2020. The online shop sells everything from T-shirts and hoodies to tote bags and hats. All the pieces are embroidered by Banias and her mother.
NARRATION: Banias’ mother, Lucia Banias — or Mama B, as others call her — has been embroidering for 10 years. When her daughter also picked up this hobby, embroidered clothes became the center of this business to uplift Chicago communities.
LUCIA BANIAS: This is my passion. And you know, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I retire. So, I think about this type of hobby, that I buy a machine. And then after that, I just like making some personalized stuff. Well, everybody liked it. And besides, since my daughter is with me, you know, she’s interested in doing that. And she asked me, “Mommy, why don’t we do like business or something like, you know?”
NARRATION: Besides Chicago for Keeps, Megan Banias’ full-time job involves working in investments for the not-for-profit sector.
MEGAN BANIAS: So, I understand that, you know, you put your work in first and then you see returns later.
NARRATION: She thought, if there are influential clothing brands charging high prices to make profit, why couldn’t she create her own clothes and use the proceeds to invest in Chicago nonprofits doing important work?
MEGAN BANIAS: These really small micro-organizations who are really the ones in your neighborhood, that are distributing diapers, or feeding the homeless, or helping empower the girls or the teenagers at your local elementary school. Those are the organizations that really need the help. And they’re the ones that are actually making impactful difference towards benefiting the community.
NARRATION: Chicago for Keeps donates to local nonprofits that Banias used to volunteer with, along with organizations her patrons recommend. A few of these on-the-ground nonprofits include Gyrls In The H.O.O.D; Taste for the Homeless; and Coffee, Hip Hop, and Mental Health.
MEGAN BANIAS: What I’m really creating is just like a business that invests essentially. Invests in not-for-profits, who are really doing the work because I’m only one person and can’t do that.
NARRATION: As for the clothes, Chicago for Keeps’ designs are clean and minimalist, with cozy colors like light blues, pinks and grays. While Banias originally wanted universal designs with the Chicago for Keeps logo, she is now branching out to create designs that celebrate her Filipino heritage.
MEGAN BANIAS: I do find a lot of inspiration from the place that I’m from, and the language that I speak. Since my mom helps me, something that she can identify with, too, the designs that she can relate with are like the Filipino words that we have on the shop.
NARRATION: Banias grew up in Chicago and has lived here almost her entire life. While she has lived in other places, she always found her way back to the Windy City. Even if there are parts of Chicago she wants to help change, her appreciation for the city motivates her to stay and continue investing in local communities through her business.
MEGAN BANIAS: Chicago, if you’ve ever considered it your home, if you grew up here, or if you lived here for any amount of time, it’s always got a place in your heart. Chicago’s for keeps! It’s yours forever, no matter what. Even if you move, even if you still live here, it’s always going to have a place with you, and let’s make it better. And don’t forget!
Elisa Xu is in the Magazine specialization at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @ElisaXu7.