Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

AdopTee’s finds loving homes for shelter pets, one t-shirt at a time

AdopTee’s finds loving homes for shelter pets, one t-shirt at a timeWhen AdopTee’s founder Elaine Sanfilippo adopted her dog Daisy from the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, MA in summer 2010, it opened her eyes to the disturbing problem of pet overpopulation. “Most people know that there are animals in shelters across the country, but the numbers are staggering,” Sanfilippo said. “Two-thirds of those animals will never find a loving home. That percentage can be as high as 90% in some high-kill shelters in particularly overwhelmed areas of the country. ” Regions of the South and Midwest have particularly bad problems with pet overpopulation due to less strict leash laws and spay & neuter laws as other parts of the country (Daisy originally came from South Carolina).

The animals’ plight drove Sanfilippo to found AdopTee’s in June 2011. Instead of starting her own rescue operation or simply volunteering her time, she decided to put her business degree to good use and create a company that would both raise awareness about shelter animals and raise money for existing rescue groups to continue their missions. She had experience in retail and decided she would design and sell t-shirts and related apparel.

AdopTee’s finds loving homes for shelter pets, one t-shirt at a timeAdopTee’s designs and sells apparel for animal lovers. (www.AdopTeesOnline.com) An actual animal inspires each of the items and many designs promote pet adoption specifically. They range from the heartwarming “Jackson”, which depicts a large paw with the slogan “I believe in second chances” to the whimsical “Princess”, which proudly proclaims the wearer as a “Fairy Dog Mother” to the downright cheeky “Destiny”, which explains that adopting a pet “keeps puppies off the pole”.

The company donates up to 50% of its net proceeds to local animal shelters. To date in 2011, AdopTee’s has helped to raise over $3,000 for local animal shelters and animal welfare groups. AdopTee’s also partners directly with different groups (as resources allow) to create custom t-shirts for their fundraisers. Those projects have been particularly successful at raising both awareness and funds to support the cause.

The most recent line of apparel launched by AdopTee’s is labeled Project: BART. Project: BART celebrates the role of military working dogs. In collaboration with the Navy SEAL Foundation, 50% of the net proceeds from Project: BART sales will be donated through the Foundation to the families of soldiers lost on the August 6. 2011 helicopter crash in Afghanistan that killed 22 Navy SEALs and a SEAL dog named Bart.

Individuals can help the cause by buying merchandise and spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter (facebook.com/AdopTeesOnline, @AdopTeesOnline). If you are part of a rescue organization that could use AdopTee’s help, please visit the website to introduce your organization. AdopTee’s often attends fundraising events as a merchandise vendor to help raise funds. The company is always looking for new partners that are sympathetic to the cause; in particular they are in need of contacts for potential retail outlets and high-quality screen printers with competitive pricing.

AdopTee’s finds loving homes for shelter pets, one t-shirt at a time

Daisy Elaine

In terms of the start-up experience, Sanfilippo says that there’s no preparation like jumping in headfirst. “I got my MBA from MIT Sloan, which has a heavy focus on entrepreneurship. While I learned an incredible amount from that experience, there are some things you just have to learn by doing. It may seem scary at first, but it’s the only way.” Sanfilippo cited things like navigating the state and federal tax / reporting requirements as examples of such items. “Now my motto is ‘fake it till you make it’,” she said with a smile.

The advice she’d give to other new entrepreneurs, especially those looking to take on a social challenge, is to acknowledge your fears then push past them. “It’s natural to be scared, or to be hesitant to do something outside of your comfort zone,” she commented. “But you need to suck it up and know that the world’s not going to end if you do something uncomfortable. It’ll make you a more well-rounded person in the end. I also found it important to experiment with a lot of different things when the company was new. A lot of people told me to narrow focus, and sometimes that is good advice, but in this case I needed to try selling into pet-specific retail, apparel retail, at local crafters events, online, through Etsy, through custom projects and more before I figured out what worked. Sometimes you have to throw a lot of stuff against the wall and see what sticks.” She also recommended reading ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ by Robert Kiyosaki. “It changed the way I thought about companies and how to take control of my own life.”

Finally, Sanfilippo said the passion for her cause is what keeps her going. She summed up with, “there will good days, and there will be really, really hard days. There’s no way around that. But feeling like you’re making a difference for a cause that is important to you will always keep you going and make the whole thing worthwhile. I think that’s why I’m happier now than I’ve ever been at any job in my entire life.”

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