NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — When the COVID-19 shutdown in March led to the temporary closure of all businesses deemed non-essential, including the Yes! Gallery in Wickford, owner Julie Beebe decided to explore an idea that had been floating in her head for some time.
“I’d had this idea for quite some years to create a t-shirt that would say something about local love, because I know that there’s a lot of Rhode Islanders that are super proud to be Rhode Islanders and to be locals,” Beebe said. “Once our store was closed, I had plenty of time to pursue that idea.”
But with COVID-19 and the impact it was having on everyone around her, both in physical health and financial stability, Beebe also wanted a way to help out.
“I also decided to tie it in with raising money for the (North Kingstown) Food Pantry because I was very concerned about how the coronavirus was going to affect them,” Beebe said.
She soon partnered with fellow North Kingstown small business owner Jake Fahrenholz, from Fresh Mode Screen Printing, and graphic designer Rob Dube, also of North Kingstown, to create RI Local Love, a clothing and apparel brand dedicated to celebrating being a Rhode Islander.
The brand, which offers hats, t-shirts, hoodies and quarter zip pullovers, features the iconic ocean waves of the Rhode Island license plate, something which opened the door for potential projects as well.
“When (Dube) first presented the original design with the wave license plate, he noted that one cool thing about using the license as our graphic is that Rhode Island happens to have a lot of different license plates and he said, ‘you know, if this is a hit, we could just keep doing different designs featuring different license plates to raise money for other local organizations,’ which I loved that idea,” Beebe said.
Her first thought that came to mind?
“I said ‘we’re going to have to do veterans next’ and Jake and Rob were totally on board, let’s do veterans next if this is a hit,” Beebe said.
RI Local Love proved to be a hit indeed for Beebe, Fahrenholz and Dube, as well as the Yes! Gallery itself. Presales in April alone were able to raise $2000 for the North Kingstown Food Pantry, with $5 from each hat and t-shirt and $10 from each hoodie and pullover being donated. Once the store reopened in May, it quickly became their top seller, now having raised over $3500 for the pantry.
“I love it when we put together our next donation check each month. We try to bring them their check from the previous month’s sales and I just love going there and seeing (NKFP Operations Manager Stephen E. Souls) and all of the amazing volunteers there,” Beebe said. “They work so hard keeping that place going, they have such great positive energy, so it just makes me so happy to be able to help fund the good that they’re doing. Actually it’s my customers helping fund (them), I can’t take credit for that.”
While the brand has been successful locally, Beebe says she was surprised to see the strong interest from tourists and former Rhode Islanders.
“I hear from customers all the time that their friends who don’t live anywhere near Rhode Island, but they used to, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, where did you get that? You need to send me some,’ so a lot of our customers who already have it come in and buy it for their friends to send all over the country,” Beebe said. “Not only that, this was also kind of a funny, surprising thing to my husband and I. This whole brand was designed to celebrate being a local Rhode Islander and this summer we had many tourists coming to Wickford and buying Local Love to bring home with them, which was kind of funny because I never saw it as a tourist keepsake, but when people from out of state come to Rhode Island and come to Wickford and have a wonderful time then I guess I’d imagine that they want to be a local, so why not wear a Rhode Island Local Love shirt?”
With her newest addition to the Local Love line, which is available for presale through Oct. 7, Beebe, Fahrenholz and Dube knew they wanted to do something to support veterans and decided to go with a design based around the state’s red, white and blue veterans plate. More importantly to them, however, was finding a local veterans charity to partner with for donations, and they found that in Johnston-based Operation Stand Down Rhode Island.
“I was doing my research on local veterans nonprofits and read up on Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, and I was so impressed with the work that they do on their mission,” Beebe said. “Their tag line is that they give veterans a hand up, not a hand out, and the way they do that is by providing educational opportunities, matching them up with appropriate jobs, helping them find housing, helping them with legal help because a lot of veterans come home and have no direction or guidance and a lot of them end up getting lost in the system and it’s really unfortunate because they are a very honorable group of our community and need to be given a chance to excel once they’re back home. Operation Stand Down Rhode Island does exactly that, so it was a no-brainer to choose them as our charity of choice.”
Like with the NKFP, $5 for every t-shirt and hat and $10 for every hoodie and pullover will be donated to the group.
“Erik Wallin, who is the head of Operation Stand Down, when I first presented the idea to him, he was thrilled and he was honored. He has been very encouraging and just an easy guy to work with through all this,” Beebe said. “I’ve had many, many customers and friends tell me that they’re thrilled that we’ve chosen Operation Stand Down because a lot of people know someone who has had to use their resources and has benefited from their work.”
Beebe said that while all hats, t-shirts, hoodies and quarter zip pullovers are available for preorder and will hit the store in November, she believes those options will be more limited as presales have been going strong.
At the end of the day, Beebe believes the brand’s success is in part because it represents what makes Rhode Island and Rhode Islanders great: working together to help others, especially during challenging times, and taking pride in the community.
“There’s just some kind of amazing camaraderie among Rhode Islanders,” Beebe said. “My whole life, before coronavirus was even a thing, there’s an obvious pride that Rhode Islanders have from being from this state and Rhode Island kind of has everything that you could want. It has great cities, it has great protected wooded areas, it has so much beautiful coastline and beach life and water sport life and just kind of everything that you could want is here and I think Rhode Islanders in general appreciate what we have and we look out for each other too, that’s part of our camaraderie is that we work together as a community.”
As for future plans, Beebe says she hopes the veterans line is also a big hit and allows them to play with more ideas based on interest from customers.
“We don’t have an exact idea for the next one but we’d absolutely want to do a next one, so there’s a few things we’re playing around with in our heads, but we might start asking members of the community for recommendations and see what other people have for ideas for us,” Beebe said.
Local Love’s Original Wave line can be found at the Yes! Gallery located at 17 Brown Street in North Kingstown or online at their website, getlocallove.com, where customers can also place pre-orders of the Veterans line through Oct. 7