T-shirts and Strength in the Sunshine StateSeptember 19, 2019
By the time Hurricane Irma crashed into Cudjoe Key, Florida, in 2017, it had already been declared the strongest storm the Atlantic Ocean had ever seen. Irma’s winds clocked in at 185 miles per hour for a sustained 37 hours; an unofficial wind gust was recorded as powerful as 199 miles per hour. Those numbers made Irma a category 5 storm—and a strong one, at that. The National Hurricane Center warns that during a storm of that scale, “catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed. […] Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
With the storm past Bermuda and barreling down on the Florida Keys, Floridians went through their familiar routine: board the windows, stock up on water and gas (if you can find it), change the flashlight batteries—hunker down and ride it out. Weakened by its time over land in the Caribbean, Irma downgraded to a category 4 just before it made landfall. But a category 4 hurricane isn’t exactly a spring shower; by the time it was all over, 129 lives were lost, and $50 billion of damage was waiting to be repaired. Across Florida, communities were devastated. Homes were flooded, business offices were leveled to the ground, and downed trees and power lines isolated residential communities. The damage was, indeed, catastrophic.
Becoming FLORIDA STRONG
Florida-based branded merchandise supplier Wizard Creations—a SanMar customer since 2006—escaped the storm largely unscathed. Based in Fort Lauderdale, on Florida’s East Coast (about an hour north of Miami), Wizard Creations was on the opposite side of the state from where the storm made landfall. Grateful for their safety and dismayed to see the damage their fellow Floridians were facing, Wizard Creations jumped into action and joined the relief efforts with a fundraiser that fit their market well: using T-shirts to remind everyone how strong Florida can be.
“Florida is our home, and the Florida Keys are our neighbors,” says Luke Freeman, Wizard Creations’ president. “We have clients, friends, and family there. After Hurricane Irma hit them directly, we knew we had to help raise funds and gather resources to help them.”
With that, the FLORIDA STRONG campaign was born. Wizard Creations designed an illustration that “incorporated all of Florida,” then adapted the design with the color schemes of Florida’s professional and college sports teams (so Floridians could support their favorite team and the FLORIDA STRONG relief fundraiser at the same time). They printed the design on T-shirts and hats and started selling them, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to support the FLORIDA STRONG hurricane relief campaign.
Creating more than a T-shirt
A website for the campaign had built-in shopping carts which automatically calculated the money raised for each order, so customers could see in real-time where their contributions were going. Ads on social media targeted Floridian sports fans and sent them to the website for purchase. And the efforts paid off: In just one week of the campaign being live, Wizard Creations raised over $25,000 in much-needed funds. On the ground, they took things one step further by organizing a caravan of their trucks (they also enlisted some of their clients to join) to bring food, water, and other vital supplies to the Florida Keys within days of the storm hitting.
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” says Luke. “Hurricanes can happen anywhere in our great state of Florida, and we would want the same love and support shown to our region if, God forbid, we took a direct hurricane impact.”
For Wizard Creations, the most rewarding part of the campaign wasn’t the money they raised—it was bringing their team together for one cause and one mission to help their neighbors. For Wizard Creations and SanMar, a business is more than a business, and a T-shirt is more than a T-shirt. A business is a supportive community ready to help those in need, no matter what it takes—and a T-shirt is a physical reminder of what it means to come together.