Do you remember the very first Agape North donation event? What was that like?
There are two "firsts" that stand out in my mind, one international and one domestic. The international one was in Guatemala; it was the first time we ever gave and we gave 500 uniforms to a school/orphanage. It was a great first glimpse of the impact our organization could have in the long-term. After Guatemala, we decided to give locally and we gave to three Title One schools in the Frayser neighborhood of Memphis in the same week. I left with an understanding and commitment to education in our hometown. After the week of giving in Frayser, we shifted to donating 85% locally to the communities our accounts are located in. The idea of showing up in person to support, encourage and learn about individual students, was a practice that had to be projected out nationally and internationally.
Why give school shirts/uniforms? What's the significance behind that strategic move?
After conversing with many Title One schools, it was understood that a real barrier to showing up and succeeding in the classroom was new, clean school clothing. If we could help eliminate that concern, we knew we could help students focus on what is most important: academics. We give a variety of items that are customizable from the school's perspective - school spirit t-shirts if schools can't allot for those from a budget perspective, sweatshirts for the colder winter months, or standard uniform polos if a school utilizes those; truly whatever is beneficial for the school and functional for the student. Agape North is an apparel company, so from a brand standpoint it also makes sense for us to give apparel. It makes the concept easy to understand and implement.
Crossing 100,000 school shirts given is a major milestone, why is this threshold important for you as the visionary and owner of Agape North?
It was a major point for me to feel that we are making a significant impact in our partner schools and with the students we give to. To give 100,000 items symbolizes the mass of students we get to work with but also the number of accounts who have become invested in the vision and made this all possible. We simply can’t do what we do without our 500+ custom apparel accounts who purchase from us each year. To think that something that was a simple concept eight years ago would be able to snowball into this sort of impact is simply something to pause and give thanks for.
Tell us about one specific memory that has stuck with you throughout all these years of giving.
We run over 100 of these donation events each calendar year, so it all feels like a little too much of a blur to pick just one memory. Overall I have loved how we've evolved these events over time to tailor them for what works best with the school and the students. Our team is always pushing us towards excellence and that's evident at how fresh, different, and dignifying the events are each and every year.
Where do you see Agape North in the next five to ten years?
Honestly, my style as a leader has been to not try to guess where we are going. Part of our success has come from a willingness to adapt and change when we need to and sometimes before we need to. What I do know at this stage of the game is that I would love to see Agape North with employees in multiple cities, giving 100,000 each year and changing the way people think about the custom apparel their organization is already purchasing anyway.
Is there anything you would have done differently? Why or why not?
Not necessarily. I believe we can learn from both things we did well and things we did not do well. As many sports coaches say, it's only a loss or a mistake if we don't learn from it.
What are some keys to building a business that gives back?
The number one priority is that you and your team believe fully in the giving. What I mean is this: if you don't feel strongly and passionately about the cause, then the business will fail. At the end of the day, our people are not selling apparel products, they are selling their own passion for a concept based in supporting education.
Number two is to stay true to your mission/giving aim and don’t waver from it. There are many times when people have asked us to give back outside of our focus and we have consistently said no to their requests. This keeps us on mission and it keeps things simple and understandable for our customers.
Number three, no matter the size of the account give them a personable and relational way to experience the giving. This has made all the difference in the world for us and for our customers. Putting faces, names, and schools with the giving has created a real connection for the work we are doing and keeps our customers coming back, which in turn keeps kids properly clothed for success in the classroom.