For more hours now than she can remember, Isabella Escribano sat on the orange couch inside her garage, iPad in hand, crafting clothing designs that she hoped would aid one of her favorite basketball players.
That player, Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, was arrested in Russia in February after customs officials said they found hashish oil, a cannabis derivative, in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. In May, the U.S. government said that Griner had been wrongfully detained, but on Aug. 4 she was convicted on a drug charge in Russia and sentenced to nine years in a penal colony. She has appealed her conviction.
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, reached out to Escribano in March to collaborate on apparel that she hoped W.N.B.A. players would wear to bring awareness to Griner’s situation. Kagawa Colas said she had chosen Escribano for two reasons: Escribano, 14, is a popular girls’ basketball player with over 100,000 Instagram followers, and she has her own clothing brand of W.N.B.A. streetwear called Break The Curse.
Escribano, who is in the eighth grade, said she “wanted to make the shirt for Brittney Griner as loud as possible.”
Operating from the garage at her parents’ home in Santa Clarita, Calif., Escribano and her older brothers, Marco Escribano and Anthony Lizarraga, landed on a colorful design that has been sported by players across the W.N.B.A. this season.
The front of the design, seen on hoodies and T-shirts, features a smiling Griner in her Mercury jersey with a basketball that reads “WEAREBG” — the phrase that has become the rallying cry in the public campaign for her release. Griner’s jersey number, 42, is wrapped around the left side, and on the back, her first and last name are printed in capital letters.
“I wanted to make sure that the shirt meant something,” Isabella Escribano said. “Like, when you see it, it’s something big. It’s basically a statement.” She added: “What we want to do is start a conversation, like whoever wears it is supporting her, basically saying, ‘Free Brittney Griner.’”
Sydney Bordonaro, who styles outfits for several W.N.B.A. players, including Las Vegas Aces guards Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray, said the distinctive look of the Griner clothing made it attractive.
“It’s just super fly,” Bordonaro said. “Like, you could wear it out to the club or to an event. It’s not like it’s a jersey or, you know, just a corny T-shirt.”
Connecticut Sun point guard Jasmine Thomas packs the T-shirt or hoodie for every game. Having Griner’s face on the front gives the items an intense and emotional aspect that makes them stand out, she said.
“I think for someone that’s not even a W.N.B.A. fan, they automatically see her face, and then if they don’t already know what’s going on, they research B.G. to get to know her, what she’s about, who she is, why she’s so important and why she needs to come home,” Thomas said.
Marco Escribano, 24, said 215 T-shirts and sweatshirts had been sent to W.N.B.A. players, other professional athletes and coaches for free. Break the Curse and Wasserman, the agency that represents Griner, split the manufacturing costs ($75 for the T-shirts, $80 for the sweatshirts) and share some of the shipping costs.
Break the Curse also sells the T-shirt for $120 and the sweatshirt for $150 on its website. The proceeds are used to cover the company’s portion of the production and shipping costs for the clothing sent to W.N.B.A. players and others. About 250 total T-shirts and sweatshirts have been sold; that hasn’t been enough yet to cover Break The Curse’s costs, but having players wearing the design has increased the website’s traffic significantly and led to other merchandise sales, Marco Escribano said.
The quick turnarounds for some requests have been a challenge, like when Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul wanted a shirt during his team’s playoff matchup with the Dallas Mavericks in May.
At the time, only two shirts were made, and they were samples. One was shipped to Paul overnight, but it never made it to him, somehow lost in the delivery process. So the brothers washed the other one — which they had planned to keep for themselves — and shipped it to Paul, who wore it to Game 5 of the series.
“I just was like: ‘We’ll just send him this, bro. Spray some cologne on it and just let it go,’” Marco Escribano said while laughing. “It’s crazy that Chris Paul was wearing our shirt.”
None of the family had experience in manufacturing clothing before last year, and Marco Escribano said they learned new aspects of the fashion industry with every design.
Isabella Escribano’s celebrity has drawn athletes and others to the brand. Her YouTube videos show off the tight handle and shifty moves that earned her the moniker Jiggy. She has a larger social media following than some W.N.B.A. players, and many professional men’s and women’s basketball players have followed her journey since she was 10 years old.
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson wore her first-ever design — a Chicago Sky-themed hoodie — last year, and Chance the Rapper wore it onstage at a concert. Plum, the Aces guard, wore an unreleased jacket that Escribano worked on for four months to Game 2 of Las Vegas’s playoff series against Phoenix this month. The jacket featured different W.N.B.A. team logos and had “STOP WNBA HATE” in red on the interior.
Thomas, the Sun guard, remembered meeting Escribano years ago after a game, so when she found that “little Isabella” was behind the Griner design, she felt more inclined to support the brand. “I’m just super proud of Isabella for being able to understand how important her platform is and using it at such a young age,” Thomas said. “That’s exactly what we want to see from young girls, and she’s really a role model and a leader in so many ways.”
But as the brand grows, Escribano’s primary focus is still on playing basketball and making it to the W.N.B.A. When she’s not creating designs, she spends most of her time in the gym, where she trains with Phil Handy, a Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach, among others. She said she would keep the brand going as long as she had a passion for it.
“There’s a lot of girls like me or other people that love the W.N.B.A. and want to support the W.N.B.A., but there’s not a lot of clothes to do that,” Escribano said. “So, I just want to give the opportunity for anybody that loves women’s basketball to be able to buy and wear it.”
She added: “Most of the time, I think about when I’m in the W.N.B.A. and how I won’t have to go buy clothes. I could just wear my own stuff.”