Founded by Norfolk State University graduate Ashley Jones, Tones of Melanin is a black women-owned licensed collegiate wear brand that celebrates the culture of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) through a fusion of streetwear, collegiate, and vintage fashion. Jones, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, is the creative director and CEO of the company, overseeing design, printing, production, and distribution.
The brand’s mission is twofold: to create stylish and high-quality apparel that embodies HBCU pride and to provide job opportunities for HBCU students and alumni. Jones’ commitment to this cause has already led to the donation of over $50,000 to HBCU educational endeavors. With a vision of becoming the home of all HBCU fashion, Tones of Melanin aims to infiltrate a collegiate fashion market that traditionally focuses on larger institutions like Duke, Harvard, and Yale.
Tones of Melanin’s unique designs reflect Ashley Jones’ desire to push for diversity representation in the fashion industry, particularly in the realm of HBCU clothing and branding. The company’s products, which include everything from t-shirts and hoodies to book bags and trucker hats, are priced between $20 and $100, making them accessible to a wide audience. As a result, the brand has garnered significant attention and is now available in over 18 HBCU Follett Bookstores across the country, as well as major retail stores like Fanatics, Belk Stores, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. This accomplishment makes Tones of Melanin the only black and women-owned HBCU company in any of these stores.
Jones’ dedication to HBCU representation is rooted in her own experiences as a student at Norfolk State University, where she noticed a lack of apparel that resonated with her and her peers. She began by selling t-shirts out of her backpack, and after graduating in 2015, she launched Tones of Melanin in 2017 to bring HBCU culture to the forefront. Leveraging her background in graphic design, creative directing, and marketing, Jones has successfully created a modern-day revenue-generating marketing tool for HBCUs and their supporters.
Tones of Melanin’s impact extends beyond the realm of fashion. The company also engages in philanthropic efforts and fosters relationships with university athletics and individual colleges. For example, Jones currently provides attire for Virginia State University’s band and other HBCUs through various partnerships.
Looking ahead, Ashley Jones envisions Tones of Melanin’s presence in all HBCU bookstores and additional retail stores, as well as becoming a “permanent” staple within the HBCU community. By championing diversity representation and celebrating the rich culture of HBCUs, Tones of Melanin is not only a fashion brand but also a powerful force for change and empowerment within the African American community.