Artist. Entrepreneur. Father. Athlete. All these words and more describe Jireh Léon, the creative mind behind a clothing line featuring t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies emblazoned with his designs.
Léon was born in South Carolina but spent his formative years in Phenix City and Smiths Station. Until the fourth grade, Léon went to school in the Russell County School District. After transferring to Smith Station Intermediate school starting his fourth grade year, he was introduced to art through 4-H. While a member, he entered an art contest with a drawing of an old school automobile that was similar to a toy he owned. He won the contest, confirming his innate talent and eye for art. This one event served as a catalyst for future artistic endeavors.
Football may seem like an unlikely influence on the fine arts, but for Léon it was an inspiration. “I was into football like crazy,” said. “I liked the whole physicality of the sport and the competition and the morale. I always thrived in those kinds of environments.” He played football for Wacoochee Junior High School and Smith Station High School as a wide receiver and punt return specialist. The social aspect of football helped influence his outlook on life. “[There were] different types of people all finding mutual ground to compete as a team. That was a growth experience,” said Léon.
The Heart of Dixie functioned as the backdrop for Léon’s upbringing. “Growing up, my parents were children’s pastors of a big church in Phenix City,” said Léon. “We had members coming from both Alabama and Georgia to our church so I’m used to having a lot of people around and just being able to please the crowd.” Along with his parents, who served as youth pastors at Love Life Ministries while they lived in Alabama, he grew up with three siblings, all sisters.
From skits to Christmas programs at the church, Léon spent his youth immersed in creative activities that helped lead him toward his current line of work. “I’m a jack of all trades when it comes to the arts. I have no limitations,” said Léon. “I’m a cinematographer full-time, full-time photographer. I maintain a few businesses’ websites. These are the things that earn my living and the arts are just a natural part of me.”
The designer has used traveling as inspiration for his work. Stemming from his time as a young church member, he has spent a lot of time talking to and getting to know a variety of people. Visiting friends in L.A. or Washington state has allowed him to gain the perspective of various regions and wrap that into his creative work. “It’s just been the foundation of my life, music and art are just literally what I thrive in and fashion is just a natural influence,” said Léon.
Around 2012, his parents moved to Orlando, Fla. to take care of his maternal grandmother. A few years later, Léon said goodbye to the Chattahoochee Valley as well and followed his parents to Florida where he began studying for a degree in digital cinematography at Full Sail University. “By going to Full Sail, I was able to benefit with a skill set of shooting the commercials and the photography. I do everything myself even from the soundtrack to graphic design,” said Léon. Before he could complete his degree, he had to drop out of school due to an important milestone in his life; His first child, a son, was born.
While he would have spent his senior year at the university as an intern, learning the ropes in his chosen profession, he instead had to jump into the work force full throttle to support himself and his child. Instead of weekends consumed by studying and homework, those days were reserved for father and son time.
The father of two was full of adoration for his two children, a two-year-old son and a two-month-old daughter. Like his children, art is an integral part of his life, and he shares that with his son who is now old enough to join him. “I paint every day, and when [my son] is with me, he always participates. Even if it’s like for 10 minutes, he will get down and create. But it seems like he is more into soccer.” His son plays in a two- to three-year-old soccer league in Florida.
Success is often the intersection between talent and opportunity. Taking chances and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone stymies even the most driven. However, Léon did not allow fear to take root and stop him from turning a hobby into a business. In May 2020, without a thought for his future business prospects, he designed a shirt for fun and uploaded the design on Facebook. The post ended up receiving hundreds of likes and those likes transformed into pre-order requests, which spurred him to produce physical merchandise bearing his designs. This allowed for the creation of a new brand bearing his name. “I am a full-time designer. The name of the clothing line is Jireh Léon clothing,” he said.
Moving to another state hasn’t kept the designer from the local area permanently. This year he returned to enter into a business deal with Columbus based ThreadMob to produce hoodies and sweatshirts that display his custom designs. Their business relationship started in June and they now help him with the marketing for the website, shipping, and production of the line. His shirts and hoodies are released by season, with the next season starting on Oct. 15.
Despite his current success, Léon has faced his share of hardships. Like many others, he has suffered negative side effects of the pandemic that extend beyond the deadly disease. For two weeks he was homeless during the current pandemic, but was able to bounce back and is now embarking on his new business journey. He used this setback to strengthen his focus and discipline. “I’m finally accomplishing my dreams right now. This is the vision, the plan I had when I moved here in 2017,” he said. “I’m a full-time designer and I travel often, almost biweekly to different states to market, to network with other businesses.” Léon is optimistic about growing his brand and has plans to start a children’s line. He has sent product to London, Wales, Canada, and even Thailand to break into the international market.
Adding business owner to the current hats he wears is a welcome addition to his life as an artist. He has learned that being a business owner means you have to take things as they come and how business is conducted can be different depending on the person. However, art, the foundation of his life, never goes on the back burner while he pursues different business opportunities.
His designs are available for purchase on his website jirehleon.com and new handcrafted designs can be viewed on social media.
This story is the second in a series
From Home and Beyond