Although there is structure in terms of formations and set plays, soccer is affectionately called “The Beautiful Game” because of its free-flowing nature.
There are magical individual moments, from a brilliantly struck goal, the step-overs and nutmegs that come with the ball at an attacker’s feet and are met with joyous rapture and become viral moments on social media.
Those are the moments the sport’s style is on display and two Major League Soccer defenders are taking the next step in the world of fashion.
Both 24-year-olds are also looking to use clothing as a platform to inspire and help others.
Taylor has always been interested in fashion and would speak with his friends as they were growing up in Raleigh, NC about one day owning his own brand.
That became a reality when the COVID-19 global pandemic halted sports, including his beloved soccer.
“It’s crazy how that worked,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of like soccer, you just take advantage of opportunities, to have extra time to create something and pursuing something to help you keep growing as a person on and off the field is always something I'm looking to do.”
Suddenly Taylor, who was then with North Carolina FC in the lower-level USL Championship, had a lot of time on his hands and figured it was the perfect time to start doing some homework on how to start his own business.
DJKT Apparel was born. It was a print on demand company that gave Taylor a little taste of what it would take to start a clothing brand.
In February, Taylor joined Minnesota United FC in MLS, taking a step up in his sport. He’d do the same with his business venture when his clothing brand Venci dropped in July.
“I would describe it as custom streetwear, but the brand is all about self-improvement and growth,” Taylor said. “We look to represent individuals who kind of embody that, which is self- improvement and always trying to be better, whether that's in their professions or just in daily life. Our slogan is “Turn your dreams into reality” so how can we help people and motivate and inspire them and help them achieve whatever the goals they want to do in their life?”
Taylor didn’t become a Major League Soccer player overnight. He turned down a scholarship to North Carolina to pursue his professional dream in Spain. At 17 years old, Taylor took a leap into a new culture and a new language, one he said he now speaks fluently. Taylor played in Spain’s top youth division and then in the professional fourth division.
He returned to the United States to compete for North Carolina FC. He also came back with inspiration for what would be his brand’s name, borrowed from the Latin phrase “veni, vidi, vici” attributed to Julius Caesar.
“Vinci means I overcame, I conquered,” Taylor said. “It ties into pursuing and achieving your dreams.”
Helping Taylor achieve his dreams are teammates Jacori Hayes, Chase Gasper, Dayne St. Clair and Niko Hansen, who volunteered to model his clothing line — and buying what they wore during the photo shoot.
“They just said we want to fully support you so they paid regular price, even though I told them not to,” Taylor said. “But yeah, they all just support me and I’m nothing but blessed. But I think they also like to have fun modeling and stuff. Who doesn’t have fun when you get in front of the camera? So, it worked out like that.”
Taylor has a goal of a return to Europe after a few good seasons in MLS. As for his clothing line, there are short and long-term goals, from expanding staff beyond a few close friends to increase brand awareness to eventually (hopefully) become a major line with worldwide recognition.
Currently pursuing a degree in entrepreneurship through online classes with Southern New Hampshire University, Taylor has the real-world example to apply to what he’s learning.
“Anytime I have projects or something, they're like pick a company I'm like yeah let’s take my company,” Taylor said with a laugh.
Tafari doesn’t necessarily consider himself an influencer, but a tweet of his grew legs and became the inspiration for a collaboration with the FC Dallas Foundation for a benefit t-shirt.
The navy-blue shirt features a :) emoticon on the front, which is what Tafari tweeted following a 2-1 win at Sporting KC on July 31.
FC Dallas players and fans embraced the simple, but positive message, tweeting it after additional victories.
Proceeds from the t-shirt sale benefit the FC Dallas Foundation which supports programs that promote education, health and wellness to empower youth across North Texas, as well as the Frank & Michael Vertullo Foundation, which provides scholarships to graduating high school seniors with special needs who are looking to further their education and attend college or a trade school.
Frank Vertullo is an art teacher in Deer Park and started the foundation in 2013 to help high school students who were graduating from Tafari’s alma mater, Deer Park HS on Long Island.
As for Tafari’s fashion sense, there’s nothing simple about that. He relishes looking different than others and “not wearing the standard type of clothing,” calling his style “miscellaneous.”
“Don’t expect anything because then you can be ready for anything,” Tafari said. “I don’t know actually what I will on any given day, but as long as it comes together, we’ll just step out of the house and see how it goes.”
Tafari showcases that fashion sense on a daily basis, but he takes it to another level on match days. Before one game, he donned a pink fedora and a blue shirt with pink hearts on them — that’s probably his favorite pre-match outfit.
“I was trying things on probably six or seven minutes before that picture,” Tafari said. “I don’t put too much time into it. In my head it will be something I actively think about in the coming days, but I won’t actually take anything out, touch anything, try anything on until maybe 30 minutes before I leave.”
And, on at least one occasion when arriving at Toyota Stadium, Tafari also made a statement, wearing a shirt with the word “feminist” across the front. The genesis of it goes beyond the current “Me Too” movement with Tafari receiving the shirt from former University of Connecticut professor Barbara Gurr in his last semester in 2019.
“I always like to keep it active, let the people know not necessarily what they want, but what they need,” Tafari said. “And simultaneously if I can do that with a decently nice fit, why not put the both of them together.”
Tafari isn’t sure if he’ll turn his passion for fashion into a job, like Taylor did, but he does have a pretty good idea on what a third FC Dallas kit would look like if given the chance to design it.
“I think it would look like dollar signs and people would love it,” Tafari said. “I’d use a hard black and then use some white and gold to outline the FC Dallas logo sort of on the crest to where the numbers would be gold on an all-black jersey with standard white lining along the kit.”
For more information on the Frank and Michael Vertullo Foundation, click here