Charity T-shirt sales ride wave of social media

Behind the Ts: (front row left to right) Kathleen Eisenbeis with baby Hayley, Jenny Schell, Austin Buck, Sara DeRose and Tucker Wannamaker (second row) Joshua Steinfeld, Tommy Eisenbeis andTroy DeRose (third row)Christopher Schell and Matt Andrews

The founders: The Wild Fire Team — CoPilot Creative, Fixer Creative, Magneti Marketing, Design Rangers, LastLeaf Printing and Jeremy Grant Creative

The idea: Design T-shirts to raise money for Waldo Canyon fire relief efforts

The goal: Donate 100 percent of after-printing costs to Care and Share Food Bank and the American Red Cross

www.wildfiretees.com

Sales total more than $300,000 in less than a week

A group of small business owners with a desire to give — coupled with the power of social media — turned a Colorado Springs T-shirt project for wildfire relief into a fast-growing phenomenon.

Tweets were flying across the Internet last week about a group of Colorado Springs designers, marketers and printers selling locally-designed T-shirts with messages such as “Make it Rain,” “Save our State” and “Hold the Line.” All shirts are $20, slightly more for larger sizes.

Their plan is to give 100 percent of the after-printing costs of the shirts to Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado and the American Red Cross’ Pikes Peak Chapter to help families displaced during the Waldo Canyon fire.

They hoped they would sell about 2,000 T-shirts.

But within minutes of creating their website, wildfiretees.com, the group was taking orders. Messages of the T-shirt project spread rapidly in Twitter and Facebook circles, and within 24 hours Wildfire Tees had taken $100,000 worth of orders. By day two, orders had doubled.

By noon July 3, sales passed $320,000, and the team said it’s new sales goal is half a million dollars.

“It’s the power of social media,” said Josh Steinfeld with Magneti Marketing, one of the firms behind the project.

“And, the goodness in people,” added Sara DeRose, co-owner of Fixer Creative.

Austin Buck, a co-owner of CoPilot Creative, modeled the project after a similar fundraising effort initiated after a wildfire in central Texas a couple years ago.

Buck reached out to a few of his designer friends and colleagues asking if they would create and donate a graphic design that conveyed something about the fires and the 1,500-plus firefighters who were working to get the fire down. The local design community, he said, is tight-knit. They emailed back instantly saying, “We’re in.”

It was their way, they said, to give to the relief efforts surrounding the fire that forced more than 30,000 people out of their homes. Last Monday, June 25, they tossed around the idea. Tuesday, they built a website. Then the fire took an ugly and devastating turn toward Mountain Shadows and north toward the Air Force Academy.

More determined to help, they put up the website at noon Wednesday, just as the community was learning of homes engulfed by fire. Magneti Marketing jumped in to push the project over social media. In one hour, there were 50 orders, said Tucker Wannamaker of Magneti Marketing.

Others wanted to give to the relief efforts, too.

One couple planning their wedding ordered Wildfire T-shirts for their entire wedding party; one firefighter, who was fighting the Waldo Canyon fire, wanted to buy T-shirts for his crew so they too could help with relief efforts, DeRose said. The crew inspired an option on the Wildfiretees.com site for people to buy a T-shirt for a firefighter.

“We got a message on Facebook from a lady named Roxanne; she said that after looking at the site, buying a shirt and seeing the outpouring of support, she had her first hopeful moment in a really devastating week,” DeRose said. “That just really hit home for us. I mean, we were just going to create this tiny thing that would let us be able to contribute, and now it’s just amazing.”

After taking orders from Europeans and military personnel stationed overseas, the group decided to take the project to a worldwide market via blogs, video and satellite feed, Steinfeld said.

“I firmly believe that there are so many people who have been impacted by this, and everybody wants to find a way to help, and this is a really easy way for people to do that,” Steinfeld said.

T-shirts are like a uniform, DeRose said. They are a way for people to identify with one another and commemorate the effort by the firefighting crews.

“This is a sentiment that you will start to see on one of our shirts — that with so much devastation and so many things that people are losing, they can’t lose community,” DeRose said. “They can’t lose the relationships and connections that this city has.”

The graphic designs symbolize the collective feelings about the fire, she said. Buck designed the runaway favorite — a “C” with flames.

“It’s so symbolic,” DeRose said. “It’s a really powerful image. So many of us watched the flames come down over the mountain — we wanted something that was just as powerful as that image.”

There is no deadline on the project, Buck said. It will continue as long as orders come in. In fact, the group expected to add more designs this week.

There are no worries that the project will grow too fast. They all run their own businesses and are experienced in bulk ordering. Tayco Screen Printing in Colorado Springs fulfilled the initial order of shirts, and the Wildfires team is working with printers in the Denver area.

“No matter how many orders are taken, they will be filled,” Steinfeld said.

The telephone at CoPilot Creative, headquarters for the project, was ringing off the hook by mid-week as Buck explained to designers how they could submit designs for the cause. By Wednesday, the group had put in about 250 man-hours to the project. They also continued to crunch numbers on printing costs, which were decreasing with every order.

“I’ve been excited all day, just shaking from all the orders coming in,” Buck said. “This is about helping the folks who have been hurt by this disaster.”