By Ameera Steward
For the Birmingham Times
At age 27, entrepreneur Trevor Blanks has already found the blueprint for success and profits through his business Tunnel Vision Empire. He sells sneakers that he designs, as well as clothing, movies, and books—and the visionary designer is already looking for the next step with his shoe line.
Next month, Blanks plans to release a black shoe similar to his current shoe style with a colorful bottom — the T93 2.0 Black Kois.
The process involves Blanks telling a manufacturer what colors, fabrics, and bottoms he would like for his shoe. The manufacturer then sends different designs, and Blanks decides what he wants based on the designs.
When it comes to choosing the colors and designs, because he orders in bulk, Blanks doesn’t order, say, 200 pairs of turquoise shoes.
“Nobody is going to walk around wearing turquoise every day,” he said. “I’m going to just keep it simple right now until I get bigger, and then I can get crazy with colors.”
In 2019, Blanks decided to start Tunnel Vision Empire to offer a product very few, if any, individuals were selling — sneakers they designed and made.
“I used to be a big shoe head, … [so] I really wanted to figure out the ins and outs of the business, the shoe business,” he said. “There aren’t too many independent shoe designers out here that have their own shoe, so [I said to myself], ‘Let me step over into this lane and see how it works. … A lot of people like shoes, so all you have to do is come up with a style and, eventually, it’s going to blow up.’”
Blanks’s sneakers hug the feet, enabling the wearer to run, walk, exercise, or partake in everyday activities. The shoes have an athletic look with sayings emblazoned on the tongues—“Build an Empire” on the right and “Leave a Legacy” on the left—to clearly define what the brand is all about.
The Art of Tunnel Vision
Throughout the process of establishing Tunnel Vision Empire, Blanks had to educate himself about materials and customs of the shoe industry, which meant some late nights. The manufacturers he uses are overseas and are more cost effective than many based in the U.S.
“That means you have to stay up [until] 3 or 4 in the morning to communicate with people [overseas],” said Blanks. “I have to stay up long just … to let them know [what I want].”
Staying up late and learning the craft have been worth it, though, because the reaction to his products has been great.
“I knew it was going to be good. I feel like anything will do good [if] you just put in the work and make the right connections,” Blanks said. “[I’ve] reached out to celebrities, and they’ve told their friends, so I’ve been shipping shoes … everywhere, probably to every state.”
Among Blanks’s celebrity customers are the Hot Boys, a hip-hop group made up of artists B.G., Lil Wayne, Juvenile, and Turk, and comedian Kountry Wayne. But the young entrepreneur’s vision goes beyond celebrity clientele. He plans to place his products in stores, as well as restart a clothing line.
“Everybody wears the same stuff, the same name brands. … I want to just put something new out there,” he said. “People got too content [with the same brands]. Another fashion comes out [and], if a celebrity isn’t wearing it, they’ll look at you like [you’re not in style].”
Blanks wants his clothing and his footwear to not only challenge that thought process but also help set his customers apart, as well as “help [me] be the best I can be and … grow my business day by day,” he said.
Blanks’s family moved around a lot when he was young, he is originally from Dixons Mills in Marengo County, Alabama, so he went to live with his uncle in Maryland at the age of 13 “for a change of scenery. . . when I moved with him, everything changed,” said Blanks, noting that he was introduced to a luxurious lifestyle.
“[My uncle was] the first entrepreneur I ever knew,” he said. “Riding with him, I [was able to] see the different businesses he had and how his family is. [They were] totally different from my family because we were in the hood. … When I moved with him, I had structure. … He made a man out of me.”
Seeing his uncle run businesses, including barbershops, credit firms, and other ventures, gave Blanks hope for his future and the future of his two children.
“I want to leave them something,” said Blanks, who doesn’t want his children to have to work as hard as he did when he was coming up: “That’s why I always say I hustle for my last name; I don’t really hustle for my first. I want to just make their lives a little easier than mine was.”
Even at his young age, Blanks is mindful of leaving a legacy after he’s gone.
“[I want people to speak positively about me]: ‘He was an entrepreneur. He provided for his family. He was doing this. He did this.’ I’ve done a lot in my 27 years, so I just want to leave a positive legacy behind for my kids, as well,” he said.
Creating His Own Lane
Blanks hasn’t limited his business ventures to just the Tunnel Vision Empire shoe line. In 2015, he started Prayed Up Apparel, a faith-based clothing line made up of mostly hoodies, sweaters, T-shirts, and sweatshirts in a variety of different colors with the words “Prayed Up.” In early 2020, Blanks took a break from his clothing line.
“It [seemed] like everybody was coming out with clothing lines, so I was like, ‘What’s going to make me different?’ That’s why I did the shoe, basically,” he said. “I was like, ‘Let me go to another lane that nobody is in.’ … I like to be in my own lane. I never been a follower, always been a leader.”
Blanks also created a lane for himself in the movie business. In 2017, he wrote a script for “Backstabbers,” which he filmed in 2018.
“‘Backstabbers’ is about … friends envying [friends], relationships, love, [and] a lot of drama,” he said. “It feels good to know that I had a vision to write a movie. I got the actors and cameraman together from all over, and we made magic.”
“Backstabbers” is free to the public on Blanks’s YouTube channel, “Trevor Blanks.” There is also a part two of the movie, but it has not been released yet.
Blanks also published two books in 2018: “Trust Who?” and “Dreams May Be Reality,” both of which are available on his website (tunnelvisionempire.com) for $12 each.
“Trust Who?” is a fictional account about a young man who finds himself on a journey during which the relationships he forms teach him the true meaning of trust.
“Dreams May Be Reality” is a dream interpretation novel about figuring out the meanings of dreams. Blanks said he learned some of what he included in the novel through the older people in his life, people he loves to hang around them because he can always learn something from them.
Blanks also published a children’s coloring book called “Role Models,” which features a broad range of family-focused imagery—including a family spending time together, a mom graduating with her two daughters, a father and son fishing—accompanied by motivational messages.
“It’s not the average coloring book,” Blanks said. “I wanted to make a coloring book showing family values, something that sends positive messages to kids.”
He doesn’t want to be remembered for being average. He tries to set himself apart in everything he does: “I just try to be a little different, do something different.”
And he does just that and more with his footwear creations.
You can learn more about Trevor Blank’s ventures on his Instagram @Tblanks93 or visit Tunnelvisionempire.com.
This article was updated on 01/14/2021 at 2:44 p.m.