Shirts support troops, veterans’ charities

Karlee Weinmann

Amid politically charged campaigns this election season, there is one of quiet solidarity with overseas American troops emerging on college campuses across the country., an online designer T-shirt company targeting college students, offers apparel that reflects that sentiment.

The company, run almost entirely by college-aged adults since August 2005, donates 20 percent of profits generated by T-shirt sales to nonpartisan veterans’ charities.

The project has access to a soldier’s frame of thinking and translates that into a visual representation, said spokesman Kevin Reilly. Co-founder John Betz is a third-generation Marine and charity director Mike Kielty is a West Point graduate who recently learned he will be redeployed to Iraq.

“Being able to have that input is the strongest part of TakePride. We’re able to tap into that mindset,” Reilly said.

TakePride was started as a youth-friendly answer to the Project Yellow Ribbon campaign, launched by the Republican Party in 1981. Yellow ribbons were named a symbol of support for those stationed overseas to boost morale and show domestic encouragement.

Co-founder Patrick Gray and Betz said they felt the younger set could not connect with yellow ribbons and set out to generate support differently.

Often, the traditional yellow ribbon is associated with a political message, Reilly said.

“It really shouldn’t be about politics,” he said. “The politics take away from our meaning.”

Chemical engineering sophomore Danny Hagen said he is not politically active and that he liked TakePride’s campaign.

“Politics kind of annoys me. I don’t like to hear about it all the time,” he said.

Clothing design senior Stephanie Amann said some of TakePride’s shirts could be construed as biased toward the war.

Amann’s own fashion line aims to raise awareness of the war and troops overseas. She said her line was also inspired by stateside youths’ apparent lack of interest in the Middle East.

“It’s hard to make shirts that specifically support the troops without supporting the war,” she said.

Reilly said that although political messages are not intentionally woven into clothing designs, many shirts are directly inspired by soldiers, and their opinions on the war may be deciphered in a few designs. Some shirts include journal excerpts from deployed troops or Marine portraits.

“Since the designs are drawn from actual experience, they do cross that (political) line a little,” he said. “We try to stay true to the soldiers, not manipulate the message.”

Carlson School of Management first-year student Ivana Damjanac said she shares TakePride’s nonpartisan ideology concerning the war.

“I feel like by having an affiliation, it makes the other side seem evil and like they don’t support the troops at all,” she said.

Feedback has been positive, Reilly said, and has come from as far away as the Middle East.

The Web site now includes biographical information about some soldiers currently stationed overseas, offering site visitors a chance to peek into the lives of those serving.

“Soldiers tell us they’re interested in giving us footage and videotapes to help relay their experience,” Reilly said.

TakePride has been featured in national newspapers and magazines and, as the initiative gains acclaim, it aims to grow and make a permanent mark on Generation Y.

“Once we are able to really connect with the college-aged group in a larger way, and actually an impactful and long-lasting way, we want to expand our product lines and increase the amount given to charity,” Reilly said.

The goal for charity gifts is 100 percent of profits, he said, which will be possible when the company becomes more substantial.