DALLAS — Alena Kelley was only six years old at the time.
Still, despite her young age, she was just as electrified and enthused about what transpired to unite the citizens of Memphis in March 1985.
That year, the Memphis State men’s basketball team mounted arguably its most memorable run in school history, upending Penn, UAB, Boston College and Oklahoma to solidify the school’s second Final Four appearance and first in 12 years.
Kelley, like many Memphians, was left gazing at the television in wonderment from the living room of her home in the heart of Binghampton. Like thousands of Tiger fans, Kelley embraced wholeheartedly the unity and pandemonium that was brought to Memphis.
“I remember vividly when the Memphis State basketball team went to the Final Four,” Kelley, a native Memphian, told MemphiSport Tuesday night from Grand Luxe Café in North Dallas. “I just remembered the excitement from my family cheering on the Tigers and seeing them glued to the TV. From that point, I knew I wanted to be a Tiger.”
Like many of her peers — most notably fellow Binghampton products Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and former Universit of Tennessee star Tony Harris — Kelley used basketball as an outlet, or sorts, to vacate poverty-stricken Binghampton. Growing up, she spent years attending summer camps and playing pickup games Lester Community Center, which was roughly one block from her home.
As Kelley tells it, the neighborhood community center not only kept her out of harm’s way in a setting where senseless crimes were a customary trend, but it provided her with the competitive drive to fulfill her dream as a fashion designer.
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Today, Kelley is co-owner of VogueGirlz Accessories and Apparel. Based in Dallas, VogueGirlz offer ladies high-quality merchandise and gives them a distinctive look for casual and business settings.
Also, consumers are given the luxury of revitalizing their appearance with trendy clothes and accessories. Having opened for operations in early February, VogueGirlz has quickly flourished as one of the hottest black-owned establishments in Dallas and the surrounding the areas.
Four months removed from its inception, VogueGirlz is now starting to have a viable presence throughout the Southern and Eastern regions of the country. Not bad for a business that appeared difficult to come full circle seven years ago.
“I made attempts in 2007 to start a clothing line, but because of a lack of resources, we walked away from it,” said Kelley, who runs VogueGirlz with her older sister, Petra Thomas. “We gave it a shot, but it wasn’t our time.”
Fortunately for Kelley and Thomas, that certainly isn’t the case today.
Seven years ago, they were left selling clothes from the trunk of their vehicles in hopes of witnessing their business soar to immense heights. Today, however, their newly-established venue is drawing rave reviews from hundreds of thousands of consumers, many of whom have bought into VogueGirlz’s mission of providing customers with a wide selection of fashionable clothing and accessories at the most affordable prices.
“It was funny because people were like, ‘This girl is hustling,’” said Kelley, recalling her initial attempt to launch her fashion designing business. “I took my student loan money and bought some merchandise and sold it out of my car. We didn’t get the building at Wolfchase (Memphis’ Mall). This is our second go around and this time we are hitting the ground running.”
Long before Kelley — who holds a degree in Fashion Merchandising and Marketing from the University of Memphis — witnessed the progression of her up-and-coming clothing business, she admittedly had lofty dreams of becoming an actress, in large part because of her admiration for the renowned actress and super model Brooke Shields.
Luckily for Kelley, her break in Hollywood surprisingly happened within weeks after she relocated to Los Angeles in October 2003. Among the first celebrities she met upon her move to L. A. was singer and songwriter Isaac Hayes, who ultimately introduced Kelley to Tom Cruise.
Cruise, it turned out, was so intrigued by Kelley’s persona that she appeared in the movie, Collateral. Consequently, Kelley would later make appearances on The Bernie Mack Show, Gilmore Girls, Fat Albert The Movie, and OWN TV’s show entitled Help Desk.
For Kelley, though her move to the West Coast was short-lived — she resided in L. A. for four years — such memorable experiences, coupled with the competitive drive basketball created ultimately enabled her to become a more aggressive entrepreneur.
“With basketball being my first venture in being competitive, it taught me to never give up,” Kelley, a former Memphis East High graduate, said. “It taught how to be driven. I would say it carried over into my whole lifestyle. You have to know your competitor. You also have to have an eye for your surroundings. When you fall down, you get back up.”
To her credit, Kelley acknowledges that while she was raised in a poor community in Memphis, she always exhibited the notion of steadfastly seeing from beyond where she was.
In a nutshell, Kelley always sensed there was more to life outside of the Bluff City, regardless of how much unity the Tigers brought to the city in the mid-1980s.
“I was (in Binghampton), but I knew I didn’t belong there,” Kelley said. “I knew that God had placed me in Binghampton for a reason. I always knew there was a world outside of Binghampton. I always thought we had money. I thought we were rich. Even though I was there, my thinking was outside of Binghampton. I was always a dreamer. Even when I was in the classroom, my mind was somewhere else. I just refused to be a product of my environment.”
Now that VogueGirlz is starting to evolve, Kelley has commenced to delve off into another business venture, one that has benefitted her considerably in recent weeks. Kelley has joined World Ventures, a home-based direct selling business in which individuals can become an entrepreneur and part of our travel club community.
Come Friday, Kelley will fly to Las Vegas to promote her latest business project, one that has already given way to her having an immediate impact since her arrival.
“I’m already leading the pack,” Kelley said. “It’s a growing company. They’re looking for people who are driven, so I’m looking to take my entrepreneurship to another level. I love it. I’ve already got my wings, which means I’m already qualified to make income.”
In assessing her career, particularly how she has managed to persevere through an assortment of challenges in recent years, Kelley is confident her best days as a rising entrepreneur are ahead of her.
So much for once selling clothes from the trunk of her vehicle.
“Since February, we’ve generated at least five figures,” Kelley, a mother of one, said of her business. “What we do is that we’re not on the payroll with VogueGirlz. We put the money back into the business. We want to grow the business because we want to tap into a market we haven’t tapped into yet. We know it’ll do well because of our taste.”
A taste that, to her credit, was first discovered while playing pickup basketball games at nearby Lester Community Center in the mid-1980s.
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Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA’s Southwest Division. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.