I am excited to feature a very near and dear company to you today: Reeve's Tees! Many of you know that a photo was taken of Ari sporting a very popular style of Reeve's Tees, making him skyrocket into Facebook fame, after it was posted to the Global Down Syndrome Society's Facebook page. The original post has nearly 150,000 likes and over 85,000 shares! Ok, enough bragging, but seriously, how often does this kind of thing happen in life?!
We owe it all to Reeve's Tees for making such a great shirt. The first time I saw this shirt, I bought it immediately. I love that it is funny without poking fun. For me, putting him in shirts with these kind of messages is a way of answering the question that might be in someone's mind (does he have Down syndrome?), but that they don't feel comfortable asking. It is way to put a smile on someone's face. It is mostly a way to show that I am so proud of Ari and all that he is, not ashamed of him.
I asked Shana of Reeve's Tees to answer some questions, and give some details about her awesome company. I hope you enjoy!
Shana, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
On the personal side - I've been married to my husband Jason for over ten years. He's a pilot in the Air Force, which means that we've had an adventure-filled life involving lots of deployments and cross-country moves. We are currently living in Ohio. We have two sons - Colby (age 9), Reeve (age 1), and another boy due in February.
On the professional side - I've been a business consultant in the financial industry for about 13 years. Six years ago I left work to study business full-time at University of Michigan. In 2011, I graduated with an MBA focused on strategic marketing. After graduating, a classmate and I founded a boutique consulting firm where we provide outsourced strategy, marketing, and web development to small businesses that do not have these departments in-house.
When and how did you decide to start a tee shirt company?
I mention my business background because it played a huge role in my decision to start Reeve's Tees. As a marketing consultant, I help companies who are struggling to effectively communicate their identity to the public.
Two years ago, in my first trimester, Jason and I found out that the baby we were having (Reeve) had Down syndrome. At that time, I had never personally met a person with the condition. At first the news was very heart-breaking. There were a lot of "I'm sorry"s, "I feel bad for you"s, and general discomfort when discussing Reeve's condition with others.
While I was still pregnant, I decided to become involved in our local Down syndrome organization (Miami Valley Down Syndrome Association - MVDSA). Our family also started going to a local tennis program called BuddyUp tennis for kids and adults with Down syndrome.
As we met more families, and spent more time with individuals who had Down syndrome - I noticed a complete misalignment with the public perception of Down syndrome (sadness, discomfort, and pity) with what was really going on within the Down syndrome community (joy, love, acceptance, and pride). Families were not sad at all - they were proud - so so so so proud!
This inspired me so much - both as a new mom, and also as someone who has focused my career on helping others communicate their unique personalities to the public. I wanted to bridge that gap between public's perception of Down syndrome with the true nature of the Down syndrome community.
I felt that the easiest way to do that would be to make t-shirts to change the paradigm.
What makes your company unique?
I believe that there are three things make our company unique... the first one is our edgy brand of loving humor, the second is our packaging process, and the third is that we are a for-profit company by design.
As a marketer, I know that to capture people's attention, one must be both pithy and interesting. Prior to starting Reeve's Tees, I had seen a number of Down syndrome awareness t-shirts that said things like "I love someone who has Down syndrome." Those were great, but I didn't think that they captured the magical flavor of love and acceptance within the Down syndrome community, nor did they turn heads or cause people to think differently about the condition.
I wanted a new voice for the Down syndrome community - one that was a little edgy - a little shocking - and a little bit humorous. I needed this voice to grab attention, change perceptions, and most importantly, to communicate to people that they can feel comfortable around those with noticeable differences. As they say: humor is often a great way to diffuse awkward situations.
With humor, one has to be very careful. Historically, humor has been used at the expense of individuals with Down syndrome. I wanted our brand of humor to express love and invite connection to people with Down syndrome.
Through my own anecdotal experiences, I noticed that saying "My baby has Down syndrome" created silence, distance, and awkwardness. On the other hand, saying that "My baby is a homie with an extra chromie" led to smiles, comfort, and even genuine curiosity and heartfelt questions about Reeve's condition.
Reeve's Tees are different because they defined by this voice within the Down syndrome community which expresses a unique brand of loving humor.
The second differentiator is more operational - it is our packaging process. For anyone who has ordered a t-shirt, we hope that they were pleasantly surprised by the work, thought, and care that has gone into the packaging.
Our tees are packaged by adults with Down syndrome or by special education students who work with us as part of their vocational training. Each of our packagers has unique intellectual and/or physical challenges, and packaging these tees has been a means for them to refine their skills, show off their capabilities, and become proficient in a process for which they can feel proud.
For adults with Down syndrome, finding work can be challenging. Packaging for Reeve’s Tees is a way for them to earn money and save up for their own personal goals.
The care and dedication that our homies put into their work is amazing - consequently, our packaging has become another way in which we express the pride felt within the special needs community.
It was important for me to be able to tell them: "You are doing important work that creates value. You are making money because what are you are doing has meaning. You are earning money because people respect your abilities and appreciate your hard work."
While we are "for-profit" - we are also a very generous company that donates both cash and merchandise to non-profits whose missions are to empower, educate, and/or provide research to enhance the lives of individuals with Down syndrome. But for ourselves, we are proud to say that we are completely funded by our customer's loyalty - for which we are most appreciative!
Most revenue goes back into growing the business so that we can continue to expand our company and further our mission – to help others “Get comfortable with difference!” Soon we will be selling shirts that help raise awareness for other genetic conditions.
Thanks to Shana for doing such wonderful work. You are an inspiration! Here are some more images of the staff at Reeve's Tees and a couple of videos that show the love that goes into the packaging!
My family teamed up with Reeve's Tees and Virginia Stiles Photography to get some images for marketing, and we had a blast!