“Doing well by doing good.” It’s a phrase at the core of many non-profit organizations and those dedicated to giving back to the community. Living in a place like Buffalo, we’re lucky to have a lot of these people among us – like Del Reid, founder of 26 Shirts.
Every two weeks, there is a new sports-themed t-shirt for sale, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a local charity or family in need. And if you live in Western New York, I can say with about 99.9% certainty you’ve seen at least one of these shirts while at a Bills, Sabres, Bisons, or Bandits game – or out and about on the weekend. There’s a mix of classic throwbacks and current events; “Orchard Park,” “Fine,” and “Celery Stalkers” are just a few of the memorable designs created by 26 Shirts’ freelance artists.
Learn more about the founder giving back to WNY, one t-shirt at a time, in today’s Founder Friday!
How did your startup, well, start up?
26 Shirts began in 2013 as an idea I had for a community service project for Buffalo FAMbase, the non-profit organization that grew out of the “Bills Mafia” movement that some Twitter friends and I started quite accidentally in 2011. As I began to formalize the idea, it became apparent that this was going to be something that would require a lot more administration than I originally thought, plus it wasn’t really a fit for the non-profit. Luckily I was able to team up with Dan Gigante, owner of You and Who, who agreed to handle the printing, fulfillment, and handling of finances. Basically all the boring stuff.
What do you do? Your startup?
, we sell a different limited edition sports tee every two weeks (with the occasional “special edition” sprinkled in as well). Shirts are typically only available during their allotted time slots, though we do bring back the occasional popular design for a “comeback” now and again. What makes us different from most other shirt sites, however, is that for every shirt purchased, a donation is made to a designated family in need or charitable cause. To date, we’ve managed to raise over $403,000
! The “give back” model in sports merchandise is somewhat rare, but we’ve seen success with it. In addition to our Buffalo line of shirts, we also have a Chicago and Pittsburgh line – although Buffalo accounts for about 85-90% of our sales.
When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?
My ‘aha’ moment was kind of foisted upon me in 2015 when I was laid off from my job as a web developer after fourteen and a half years. About to turn 40, I found myself at a fork in the road where I could either go right back to the well, hitting the pavement trying to find another job in the same field I just spent a decade and a half in, or take a leap of faith and see if I could get this t-shirt thing to actually work on a grander scale and make it my sole vocation. So far, so good!
What was some important advice you received when starting up and who told it to you?
I don’t know if it was advice that stuck with me (though I did receive plenty!) as much as it was encouragement. Over the previous couple years, one of our freelance artists, Corey Jeppesen, and I have struck up a great friendship. He called me the day I got laid off and just said some kind things and provided great encouragement. Being men of faith, he prayed with me and for the undertaking I was about to embark on and it really meant a lot. I don’t know if he’s going to read this or not but if he is: Thank you, Corey, for being such a kind soul and a great human! You’re my brother.
What has been the biggest accomplishment for your startup to-date?
Seeing as how we exist specifically to raise money for people in need, I suppose our “biggest accomplishment” has to be our best-selling shirt, yeah? Thanks to “Buffalosaurus Rex,” we were able to raise over $17,000 for Lexi Sonricker, a little girl who was fighting leukemia at the time Rex Ryan was hired (January 2015). Most shirts admittedly don’t come close to that high water mark, but I suppose it just goes to show you the potential that’s there with what we’re doing. And so I don’t leave you wondering, good news: Lexi is now cancer-free!
Goals for the next year? Three years?
Now that we’ve been doing the 26 Shirts thing almost four years, we feel like we have a strong understanding of our process from beginning to end in terms of what’s required to successfully launch and run a shirt campaign the way we want to. As a result, we’re preparing to launch a new line of shirts soon that has nothing to do with sports and has a wider appeal nationally…stuff with pop culture and “geek-themed” designs. It would be great to see this new line flourishing a year from now. We’ll have to wait and see. As for three years from now, man… good question. I guess it would be great to see the 26 Shirts brand have a wider audience and become more well known so that we can raise $17,000 for people on a regular basis!
Buffalo is home!
How do you do it? What drives you?
I’m a firm believer in helping people less fortunate, and by being able to combine sports and t-shirts (two of my favorite things), this can very easily be considered my dream job… and when you’re working your dream job, it’s not tough to get out of bed and head to the office every morning.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
You get one life. Make it count. If you’re feeling called to step out and do something on your own, don’t waste away in a cubicle working a 9-5 job that you’re keep strictly to pay your bills. Be wise about how and when to make that decision, but don’t let your life pass you by so that you end up wondering if you could have ever made that idea work. Figure out how you’re going to pull it off, then DO IT.
For more about Del and 26 Shirts, check out our Latitude podcast!