Teen T-Shirt Entrepreneur Meets Obama

President Barack Obama with Kalief Rollins.
President Barack Obama with Kalief Rollins.
White House photo
He got to the White House by spreading positive messages of hope and empowerment. He's the future of America; He's the promise of a new generation; He's ... the president of the Phree Country clothing company, 17-year-old entrepreneur Kalief Rollins.

Kalief met that other president Monday and CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman has the story of his road to the White House.

It all began 5 months ago, in his mother's garage in Carson, Calif. Kalief and his brother Anthony started and still run a custom T-shirt business called Phree Kountry. What they lack in spelling, they make up for in message.

Steve Hartman Blogs About This Story
More Assignment America Stories
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship

Their shirts are all about ending gang violence and empowering those kids to be something more.

"This one says, 'Caution: Educated African American Male,'" Kalief said.

Anthony does the designs. Kalief does the sales. The only other employee is their mother, Shukriyah.

Mom keeps track of the books and her son's hours. She said, "I have to really tell them it's time to go to bed."

Kalief said he's wanted to be a businessman, "since birth."

That's only a slight exaggeration. Kalief started in 1st grade, using his lunch money to buy candy in bulk and then reselling it to his classmates. By junior high he'd moved on to jewelry.

"I'm just a natural born salesman," said Kalief.

Take it from me; He talked me into buying that "caution" shirt.

"It won't be weird," Hartman asked? Kalief replied, "No."

He sells about 65 shirts a month, mostly to classmates and friends. All profits go back to grow the business.

"So your mom works for free?" Hartman asked Kalief.


"She expects nothing in return?"

"She expects me to do well in life," Kalief said.

If that's the currency, Kalief sure paid her well this week.

"I'm so proud of him," said Shukriyah.

A few months ago, Kalief submitted his business plan in the National Young Entrepreneur Competition. Twenty-four thousand kids entered. Judges whittled it down - first to three, and then to Kalief.

He won $10,000 and, of course, a trip to meet the President. Kalief said they talked mostly about his company.

"We showed him a couple shirts, we couldn't bring 'em all," said Kalief. "But he kept one of our shirts that says, 'Caution: Educated African American Male.'"

The same shirt, that in the end, I decided wasn't appropriate for me. Of course being the consummate businessman, Kalief was able to make a sale anyway. A sale, at my expense.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.