My July 4th started out horribly. NOBODY would give us a chance. As we canvassed the Chatham parade route, the seventy T-shirts stuffed in our backpacks felt like seventy pounds of rocks. Every time I approached a potential customer, I was either ignored or received a quick, “No thanks, kid.” The plan I had been so proud of now felt like an idea my four-year-old cousin could have created. I had not even completed my goal of selling one shirt.
“Let’s go watch the parade, dude!” begged Jack, “This isn’t going to work.” Disappointed and ready to quit, I sighed. Jack is probably right. Then a woman’s voice interrupted my thoughts: “Hey, those are really cool shirts. Are you selling them?”
Looking back, I was a little naive when I started selling T-Shirts to raise money for the veterans’ organization, Home Base. Coming up with a cool fundraiser was the easy part; designing, printing, and selling the T-Shirts was much more complicated. But Home Base had actually listened to my plan! They were willing to let a couple of high school kids support their cause, so I had to follow through on my promise. This sense of purpose helped me believe in myself, despite a lot of rejection along the way.
BRAVE Apparel was initially BRAVE sports, a website my best friend, Jack, and I created to post our own sports articles. Almost immediately after we launched the website, we decided we wanted to make T-shirts with our logo, but we got stalled. How could we market shirts that had no real purpose behind them? Then one night, while I was watching a Green Berets documentary with my dad, the answer came to me. The footage on television showed American soldiers as they disarmed and detonated IEDs. When the soldiers believed they had secured the area, one of their military vehicles suddenly exploded into a ball of fire. I watched in horror as the sergeant, who had been alive moments before, was dead. There was not even time to mourn him.
This event was my tipping point. I told my dad how upset I was and that I wanted to give back to our veterans. My dad, who volunteered at Home Base already, motivated me and encouraged me to create a T-shirt that could be sold to raise money. With the help of my friend, Graham, I downloaded a free trial of Adobe Illustrator and began designing. As I played around, I placed the word BRAVE in a circle across the chest, and on the vertical side of the letter “B” created the image of the Boston skyline. The idea behind the logo was that we can all be brave in our everyday lives by supporting our veterans and remembering our roots.
Three weeks later a delivery of four huge boxes of BRAVE T-shirts crowded my parents living room. There was no turning back, and this knowledge made my backpack even heavier that day as I approached the Chatham 4th of July parade, filled with fear. Each time I felt myself wanting to quit, I remembered what the back of my shirt said: BE BRAVE. And when that first interested customer asked me about the shirts and handed me twenty-five dollars, I sprung into full sales mode, handing her our information sheet and explaining our cause.
Today, BRAVE Apparel has sold close to 85 shirts, done nearly $3,000 in sales, and donated 10% of its profits to Home Base. When I am not promoting BRAVE apparel and Home Base on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, I knock on doors; BRAVE T-shirts are now sold in three local Cape Cod stores. When I think back to the moments of fear and insecurity I felt as I tried to bring my idea to life, I realize I am stronger than I thought and that purpose conquers fear.