Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Wearable wordplay and domestic beneficiaries – Palindrome Apparel

In my family, literally everyone’s name is accompanied by medical abbreviations such as, “M.D.” or “PhD,” except for my own. Considering this fact (as well as many others), any family portrait depicting my siblings smiling next to a jet-black sheep would make perfect sense. In all fairness, I made considerable efforts to pursue a ‘traditional’ route throughout my academic and professional career, but it never took. I started as a double major in Chemistry and Biology and spent my early college days in various laboratories. By my sophomore year I traded in my lab goggles for the DSM-III and became a Psychology major. I was far too interested in people, their interactions, their behavior, their motivations and their personalities to just study their cellular composition – and since I was awarded the senior superlatives of “Class Flirt” and “Golden Shovel” [read: biggest bullsh*tter] in high school], I figured it made me a people person. I graduated early and was off to the races.

Five years later I’m an unemployed New Yorker, for which I primarily blame Tim Ferriss. After inhaling “The 4-Hour Work Week,” my decision to quit my unfulfilling desk job was solidified and I walked out the door during the worst economy our nation has ever seen. I consulted on a few projects from my de facto home office and came to realize the enjoyment and satisfaction I felt when I was empowered by my work.

Following the conclusions of these temporary projects, I called a close friend (and now business partner), James Reilly, to pick his brain about the job market. As it turns out, James was in the process of writing a book for Portfolio/Penguin about the job market, the future of business and its relationship to philanthropy and social entrepreneurship. There was immediate synergy on the phone as James and I discussed our passion for making money, helping people and being our own bosses (not necessarily in that order). Before we knew it, we had developed the basic concept for a new company and booked flights to Miami to meet with a silent partner. From there, everything moved pretty quickly.

We wanted to create a socially conscious company called Palindrome Apparel, which for us, was really a hopeful experiment. The initial, grandiose idea was that Palindrome Apparel would donate 50% of the retail value of all items sold to charity – using only organic products. After a few weeks of research, number crunching and brainstorming in local coffee shops, plus a few reality checks, we refined our idea into a sustainable and unique entity.

Palindromes, for those who don’t know (you would be surprised), are words or phrases that are spelled the same way both forwards and backwards, like “dad” or “mom.” Palindrome Apparel, Inc., is now a socially responsible lifestyle brand that merges philanthropy and business. Every palindrome design we create is partnered with a corresponding domestic nonprofit organization, which receives 20% of the retail value of any item sold with that particular palindrome on it. Every item Palindrome sells is 100% USA made. The first three palindromes we launched with are “RACE CAR” “LION OIL” and “YO BANANA BOY.”

We matched “RACE CAR” with Leilani Münter’s 501(c)3 organization, Carbon Free Girl. Leilani, according to Sports Illustrated, is one of the top ten female NASCAR drivers in the world. For every race she runs, she buys an acre of rainforest to offset her carbon emissions. In short, her mission is to “green” the sport of racing. Did I mention she is Catherine Zeta Jones’ stunt double? This, for us, was simply a perfect marriage.

The second palindrome we designed was “LION OIL,” which we matched to the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, a subsidiary of the National Wildlife Federation (Both are 501(c)3 nonprofits). With the artwork created specifically for the Gulf Coast BP disaster (depicting a Sea Lion and an Oil Drilling Rig), the LWF was the ideal recipient as they are on the front lines helping to save marine life affected by the spill.

Our third palindrome, “YO BANANA BOY,” was matched with the Yes To Seed Fund, part of Yes To Carrots, which is the 2nd largest organic cosmetics company in America (second only to Burt’s Bees) with products carried in over 30,000 stores in 21 countries. The company has developed the Yes To Seed Fund, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit that gives grants to underprivileged schools and communities to help them build gardens and learn about healthy nutrition. To say the least, we were thrilled with our partners, especially since none of them had seen anything more than our artwork.

For every item that we sell, 20% of the retail revenue is donated directly to the corresponding domestic partner. It’s simple, it’s easy to understand (many companies donate a percentage of profits, which can be defined in a thousand different confusing ways), and there is no “catch.” Our mission is to give back through the power of conscious consumerism – we want our customers and our nonprofit partners to rest assured that the money generated from each purchase is going to the right place for the right reason.

For us, it has been all about persistence, building relationships, and internal capital investments. Every day, James and I still get on the phone with a list of “Action Items” to tackle. We constantly remind each other that 90% of start-up businesses fail due to the lack of follow-through. We work on new ideas: ways to expand, ways to cut costs, ways to advertise without breaking the bank, ways to streamline the consumer experience and look to the future of both the company and philanthropic giving. Though we had to abandon some of our early ideas, such as all-organic apparel or donating 50% of the retail (both of which would have made a sustainable company simply impossible), we have always viewed the company as a work in progress, with the ability to change and adapt as we grow.

Having started the company on a shoestring budget (wink, wink), our profit margins would have evaporated if we used organic or recycled apparel because of their higher costs. We stayed focused on the end result and realized that the selling point wasn’t the material of the items, but rather what they stood for and how they looked (they also happen to be really comfortable!). Down the road, as the company grows, we hope to be able to offer more items, an organic/recycled option to our consumers, and possibly even a larger percentage of retail to each of our partner organizations in an effort to become even more sustainable.

While Palindrome Apparel is still in its early stages, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We often joke around about the scene from “Tommy Boy” where Ray Zalinsky, played by Dan Aykroyd is rationalizing that his products are “Made by the American working man, for the American working man, because that’s what I am, and that’s who I care about.” As funny as this may sound, at the end of the day that holds true for us as Americans who want to repair our broken country before looking to fix the rest of the world’s problems.

By Jared Shahid, Chief Operating Officer, Co- Founder
Palindrome Apparel, INC.
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