When it comes to maternity clothes, Danielle Forte doesn't want to have to choose between functional and stylish—and she doesn't think any other mom should have to either. Through her fashion line, 828 Clothing, she seeks to empower moms to feel comfortable yet beautiful throughout the hectic season of motherhood.
But for Danielle and her husband, Matt—former NFL running back for the Chicago Bears and New York Jets—828 is not just about fashion. It's about faith. In fact, the couple named the brand after Romans 8:28, a verse that drives the Forte family every day.
Matt and Danielle seek to weave that faith into every area of their lives—whether in raising their two toddlers, Nahla and Matthew; serving the Chicago community through their What's Your Forte? Foundation; or providing moms stylish designs made from quality fabrics.
828 Clothing offers maternity and nursing apparel—from joggers to dresses to cardigans to jumpers—and 828 Baby, launched in November 2017, offers clothes such as onesies for babies and unisex outfits for toddlers.
"The line can be worn from pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, post-pregnancy and beyond, because you won't always be pregnant, but you'll forever be a mom," Danielle said.
She described her line's style as modern-classic. Having enjoyed fashion since she was a young girl, Danielle now seeks to create outfits that are up to date but won't go out of style as fads come and go. The way she sees it, being a new mom is enough work in itself, and moms shouldn't have to waste time stressing over finding stylish clothes that fit.
"I think what makes 828 Clothing unique is that I originally started it to make moms feel better about themselves, so they could get out of the little slump of being tired and have moments for themselves," Danielle said. "And I wanted to create something where they felt comfortable, where they could go out with their kids and with their husbands and feel beautiful, no matter what was going on underneath, because we know after having babies, things aren't always the same right away."
The clothing line grew out of Danielle's own experience as a first-time mom. After giving birth to her daughter, Nahla, she struggled to find clothes she thought were cute yet functional for nursing. Her frustration grew until "Matt decided to tell me one day that I should probably start my own and do my own clothes to my liking," Danielle explained. "And that's kind of how it started."
Called According to God's Purpose
With support from her husband, whom she calls her biggest cheerleader, Danielle launched the 828 brand on Aug. 28, 2017. The launch date was another nod to Romans 8:28, which says, "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
The verse has been "a driving force for me since I was little," Danielle said. "It was my mom's favorite Bible verse. She would always repeat it. I would think, Why does she like this Bible verse so much? But as I got older, I realized, Oh my gosh, I completely understand. Because it means everything, because every day ... we're taking care of our kids, we're doing what we have to do, but at the end of the day, when you give those goodnight kisses and hugs, you know everything is going to work out for the greater good, as it should."
When trials arise, though, it's not always easy to cling to biblical truth. One of the obstacles Danielle faces in leading 828 is having so few staff. She runs the business out of her home and has a small team. Whereas a bigger company could delegate many tasks to a large team, Danielle has to delegate the same number of tasks to fewer people.
"But it keeps us closer, communicating," she said. "And everyone kind of knows what's going on because there are fewer of us."
On top of normal business stress, Danielle faces the pressures of running a business while taking care of her home and family. When she first launched 828, Matt was still playing professional football with the New York Jets.
"A lot of times she'd be at home," Matt said. "She'd have help from the nanny for a few hours, but then once the nanny went home too, she had to run a business, make phone calls, send emails and so on. But that's hard to do when you're cooking dinner and washing clothes and doing all kinds of things that moms do."
Through every obstacle, the Fortes have held onto Romans 8:28, even when Danielle went through one of the hardest moments of her life—losing her best friend. Ashley was in her 20s and had two children: a 3-year-old and a 4-month-old. Ashley went to the hospital for a surgery and, sadly, didn't wake up.
"I just did not understand why," Danielle said. "I still don't understand why, but I know it was for a purpose. And I think that was probably the hardest moment in my life, understanding and knowing that everything worked as it should, whether I'm OK with the outcome or not, and that her time on earth and her purpose that He gave her were fulfilled already, no matter if I agreed or disagreed."
Refusing to let her best friend's memory die, Danielle named two of her designs after her—the Ashley Dress and its sleeveless version, the Ashley II Dress. But Ashley wasn't the only godly woman Danielle wanted to honor through her clothing line.
"Every piece that's in the line is named after a mom I admire, and all of them are completely faith-driven," Danielle said. "And that's why I appreciate them."
Likewise, Matt's faith in the Romans 8:28 promise also endured testing before he was married. He shared how, as a freshman running back at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, he broke several records. He assumed he would experience even more success on the field the next year. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, and Matt and his family had to move out of their water-logged home for six months. Amid the chaos, he had to attend a different university, and his team won only two games that season.
But the struggle didn't end there. During his junior year, Matt was only 20 yards from rushing 1,000 yards and breaking a four-year record when he injured his knee and had to undergo surgery.
"I'm thinking, Man, God, I'm trying to do what's right and stuff. Why would You allow an injury like this to happen to me?" Matt said. "I didn't know that things would turn out for the greater good, like Romans 8:28 says."
Matt didn't have to wait long to see that verse fulfilled in his situation. He worked the entire summer to strengthen his knee, and the next year, God enabled him to rush 2,000 yards.
"God basically doubled what I was trying to get," Matt said. "And then I was able to get drafted. Rushing for something like that and breaking records puts your name on the map. So the NFL was looking, and I ended up getting drafted, coming to Chicago, meeting my wife in Chicago, having beautiful children, and the story goes on."
Matt's experience in college not only revealed to him God's faithfulness, but it also opened his eyes to realize how important education is—and how some young people don't have the same opportunities as others. When he learned that 14.7 percent of Chicago's high school dropouts were incarcerated, he decided to launch the What's Your Forte? Foundation in 2013. The foundation provides scholarship opportunities for boys and girls who want to pursue higher education.
"With Danielle and this clothing line and wanting to empower women, that starts at a young age," Matt said. "I wanted to empower youth in general, especially in underserved communities, because they don't have a lot of role models. It's unfortunate but true that they don't have mothers and fathers in their homes a lot."
Not only does the foundation's name play off of Matt's last name, but it also stands as a reminder that each child is unique, with talents and passions of their own. Matt wants to help children cultivate those dreams.
"So we not only empower and mentor young boys and girls, but we also provide scholarship opportunities to lessen the burden of tuition," he said. " ... So we really impact the community that way through education—but also through empowerment and mentorship."
Living a Christian Lifestyle
For the Fortes, empowering children begins in their own home—and it all revolves around their faith. Beyond going to church, the couple disciples their children during their downtime.
Matt said he strives to follow the advice a friend once gave him: "'Even though there's a church pastor, be your wife's pastor, be your family's pastor—yourself. Don't just take for granted that the pastor is just preaching the right things or saying the right things.' So that puts a lot of weight on your shoulders to study God's Word and be the head of the household and to disciple your own family. I've learned more Bible verses by basically discipling my daughter. I teach her Bible verses at night, and it helps me out to be able to remember them and memorize what they say and what they mean."
Danielle marvels at the fruit God has produced as she and Matt disciple their children. She sees Him doing a work in their 5-year-old daughter that Danielle didn't experience at that age.
"Every night ... we say prayers with our kids, and our daughter—she's older, so she does Bible verses with us—and she now tells us, 'Mom, God is just so awesome. I love Him,'" Danielle said. "My kids, they understand and they look for [faith] wherever they are. They know that God is first, and everything else falls after."
As the Fortes use their parenting journey to glorify God, they have also found it provides them with inspiration for the 828 brand, especially the children's line. Matt said when he and Danielle were dating, she would buy him shirts with funny sayings or old movie quotes.
"And I was thinking, I would really like to see the onesies with cute sayings on them that people would like to buy," Matt said.
With Danielle's design help, Matt writes the sayings for the onesies and toddler apparel, including "Am I Your Forte?", "Eat, Sleep, Change: It's Not Rocket Science," "The Milky Way" and "I Love You to the Moon and Back."
Inspiration for quotes also came as Matt and Danielle discovered what was "sacred" in their home, such as naptime. As Matt learned how desperate he could be to keep everyone quiet at naptime, he thought of "If You Wake Me, You Take Me" for 828's hipster onesie.
As the Fortes work together on 828's clothing line, women feel encouraged and inspired.
"I have women come up to me and say, 'I love these pants. They make me feel so comfortable. I feel like myself again. I feel like I can go wherever I want and feel confident," she said. "The women really get it, that it's not just a clothing line. It's really an empowerment thing, a lifestyle thing."
Danielle is thrilled with the major media attention 828 has received since its launch. Several of the brand's products have appeared on NBC's Today Show, Reader's Digest, The Blast, The LA Baby Show and other media outlets.
Seeing the impact 828 is making, Danielle looks forward to expanding her line and continuing to share her faith through her business as opportunities arise. Whenever people approach her to ask how she balances her work and home and how she and Matt thrive in their marriage, Danielle has a ready response: "You know what? It's really our faith. It's God, and it's the intimacy that we've created with our family."
Jenny Rose Curtis is assistant online editor for the Charisma Media Group and co-host of the "Charisma News" podcast.
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