Photographer Ivan McClellan shares the story of Julius Tillery and Jamaal Garner of BlackCotton, a business creating hand-made home décor, jewelry, and accessories from cotton they cultivate and care for.

The post that follows is the second contribution from our friend Ivan McClellan. If you missed the first one, you can check it out here. Ivan is a photographer and storyteller who’s focused on sharing stories, characters, and experiences of black cowboys and cowgirls. You can (and we hope you will) follow him here. We’re proud to partner with Ivan to bring you this look at Julius Tillery and Jamaal Garner of BlackCotton. We look forward to sharing more stories from Ivan in the months ahead. Walk Taller, y’all.

man on tractor

"Cotton is the new rose." That's how BlackCotton founder Julius Tillery describes his product. Known as the Puff Daddy of cotton, Julius is remixing the industry. He is a fifth-generation farmer taking this tradition passed down from his great-great-grandfather Reverend DL Tillery and elevating it with innovative home decor, art, jewelry, and social media savvy. Julius works the 125-acre family farm in rural North Carolina with his father, James, growing soybeans, peanuts, and cotton. Julius aims to change narratives about cotton as a poor man's crop strongly associated with slavery. "Cotton is our culture. Most places where cotton is grown are impoverished, so we're turning it into something valuable."

Though Julius grew up around cotton, he didn't fully embrace it as a career until after graduating from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a degree in economics and entrepreneurship. He worked a few jobs in farming and saw small farmers struggling to compete against big industrial agriculture. Julius returned home in 2016 and started BlackCotton with the vision of keeping his family farm sustainable and independent. He knew he needed a right-hand man, and so he reached out to his childhood friend Jamaal Garner. A recently retired Marine, Jamaal took the role of operations manager in charge of production flow. They needed a product to sell, and turning their crop into textiles was labor-intensive and expensive. They picked some raw cotton bulbs, put them in a mason jar, and sold it as their first product. Today BlackCotton ships apparel, wreaths, table centerpieces, and raw cotton around the world. Another part of their business is agritourism, giving tours of their farm to visitors from as far as New York and California.

Julius Tillery and Jamaal Garner

Together they have ambitions to expand their business beyond home decor to create cotton textiles and provide fabric to fashion brands. One key to this is to get a cotton gin up and running. "There's an intimate relationship with a farmer and a cotton gin. It's the first place you go after the cotton is picked. It will allow us to have our cotton products produced outside of a co-op and sell to whoever we want." This independence is essential to Julius. He wants to ensure that brands that profit from their cotton contribute to the community. The vision for Julius is to spin cotton into gold and to elevate all those around him. He hopes that one day his 5-month-old son will continue the family legacy and keep it running.

Julius Tillery

Join BlackCotton on their Instagram @blackcotton.us for their latest updates and get your own unique cotton home décor at www.blackcotton.us.

It's about time Tecovas kicked up some dust. Shop the Ranch Wear collection to see all items featured in this story and get to work.

Shop Ranch

Keep reading:


Self-Discovery Through the Lens of Ivan McClellan

By Ivan McClellan I moved from Kansas City, Kansas to Portland, Oregon, to pursue a career as a designer and photographer. I found myself working mostly in tech in front of a computer 12 hours a day. Rarely did I encounter other black folks, and for the first time in my life, I felt racially isolated. One day at a...

Read More


The Black Cowboy Museum and the Cowboy who Keeps Its History Alive

Historians estimate that one in four cowboys was Black in 1900. Yet, Black cowboys go largely unrepresented in the fact and fiction of the West. It begs the question: How many stories have been left untold, heroes left unidentified, and identities left mischaracterized? Larry Callies wants to preserve this history because it matters. History flows through his veins, which makes...

Read More


To Live and Breathe It

Yancey James and Trey Martin started Tejas Rodeo on a 71-acre property Martin purchased from his family in Bulverde, Texas in 1993. In 2005, Tejas Rodeo was founded. By 2011, they realized patrons wanted a full experience. They had added a steakhouse, revamped their stage, and added event spaces. Today, Tejas Rodeo hosts a Saturday rodeo nine months out of...

Read More