T-shirts for a Good Cause: Interview with Shea Mullen of Give and Take

by Marc Jay
02.26.2010

Marc Jay: I’ve come down to Project Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay to see my dear friends, Shea and JJ, who have quite recently started a new line called “Give and Take,” which is a wonderful charity t-shirt company. I’m going to have Shea explain a little bit more, since it’s kindof new to me, so Shea tell us what you’re doing here at Project today.

Shea Mullen: We’re showing our line “Give and Take,” which we are very proud of. We’ve had it on the market for about two years and it’s something very close to my heart. It started out about my story. I had been designing t-shirts for about 15 years and was looking to do something more authentic and positive. I have multiple sclerosis, I have a nephew with epilepsy, and my mom died of cancer, but my parents always taught me to turn my challenges into something positive, so I thought, what can I do with that? I was thinking and then one day I saw a college-aged kid wearing a t-shirt that said “1979 Dance-a-thon for Leukemia” and I went up to him and said, “Where did you get your shirt? It fits great, it’s a perfect wash, great graphic…” and he said, “Oh, I got it at Goodwill.” So it was a real shirt, it had been a real event and I thought these charities, these domestic American charities, are being sort of forgotten about – like multiple sclerosis and epilepsy or the American Heart Association – so why don’t I contact these organizations and see if I can recreate events they did or make up some fictitious ones that would have been events to raise money and create t-shirts around it and donate money back. I’d bring them to the stores that I’ve sold to, great department stores and boutiques that will raise awareness and get a whole new demographic talking about autism and talking about these challenges. So I just started calling them and working with them and now what started out with my story has become about other people’s stories, which is my favorite part of the whole business. I get emails from people every day saying, “I bought your shirt because…” Some just say “It’s a cool shirt, I love how it fits,” but most people say they bought it because of their relationship to one of the causes or their boyfriend’s niece has epilepsy or their mom had cancer, and I love that. I love that it’s become other people’s stories. Then, we started reaching out more globally. We started out with domestic charities and now we’re working with Charlize Theron’s organization. Her team is unbelievable to work with. They are very sincere and want to help build soccer fields or bring water wells to South Africa and it’s just been a privilege and honor to work with them. The exciting thing is doing the benefits – Live Aid, USA for Africa, Freddy Mercury, and Conspiracy of Hope – all these concerts that in the ‘80s, when I was growing up, those were my experiences with giving back. We’re kind of reminding a new generation about it and it’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.

Marc Jay: So, with the name “Give and Take” you are truly giving with every t-shirt you sell. What is the percentage and how does it work? Does it go to a specific charity and how does somebody know which charity the money from the t-shirt is going to?

Shea Mullen: Whatever the graphic is, the money from the shirt goes specifically to that charity. We do put a tag on every shirt that tells what charity the money is going to and their website. We do this because we hope to start a conversation and a dialogue with people. Even though they might just be buying a cool shirt, we hope that maybe they’ll look up that organization and get involved.

Marc Jay: I know many people out there will want to go and buy these t-shirts, where can they pick one up?

Shea Mullen: You can buy them from our website, which is www.giveandtaketees.com, or we sell to Bloomingdale’s, Scoop, Fred Segal, Kitson, and a lot of great small boutiques across America, independent stores that are supporting us, which is wonderful.

Marc Jay: Now, you produce and manufacture the t-shirts, but who comes up with the designs?

Shea Mullen: I do all the designing. Some of the organizations have great archives, like the Boys and Girls Club, which is a very old organization, so we’re able to pull from their archives. Live Aid or USA for Africa also have a lot of original artwork. I design most of the others and make them look like they’re old and then we manufacture them in LA.

Marc Jay: Are you actually based out of LA?

Shea Mullen: I’m from Pittsburgh and I still live there. My design office is in Pittsburgh, but my business partner, JJ, is in New York, so I spend a lot of time in New York and we spend time in LA, so we kind of have three offices.

Marc Jay: How important is it coming to Project in Las Vegas and what other shows do you go to?

Shea Mullen: We go to Coterie in New York, which is more of a women-driven show. Project and Coterie are our two most important shows of the year.

Marc Jay: You mentioned that the company is two years old. What were you doing before and how did you fall into the t-shirt line?

Shea Mullen: I was designing t-shirts privately for stores and then this has been our own brand. JJ’s been on board for a year, so it’s still pretty fresh and we keep adding to it. Just this season we started doing Glad Rags which feature hobo symbols from the depression era, which have this great, interesting history behind them and sayings from the depression era which are, unfortunately, very timely right now like, “Waste Not Want Not” or “Wanted: A Decent Job,” and those go back to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. During the holidays I was very proud of what we were doing, helping the MS Society and epilepsy and the Boys and Girls Club, but I kept thinking about parents who couldn’t afford to buy their children presents for Christmas because they were out of work or they were losing their homes. I kept thinking that there are people who are cold right now, there are people who are actually on the street cold and I’m in my warm home – what can I do for that? So, that’s one of our newest collections, "Glad Rags” and then also the National Parks Foundation, which there’s a lot of talk about because Ken Burns did a documentary and the National Parks is considered America’s best idea. It was really a great concept and we have these beautiful parks that we need to save. I think we’ve started out with something and we just keep branching out and trying to help as much as we can. The bottom line in our office every day is “is it good for the charity?” We know, in turn, if it’s good for the charity, it’s good for us. We want to raise money for them, but we also want to raise awareness. We hope we’re introducing some of these things to new generations and different demographics.

Marc Jay: How many different designs do you currently have in your collection?

Shea Mullen: Oh, wow… [laughs]

Marc Jay: Basically there’s something for everyone?

Shea Mullen: Absolutely. You have a great point there, it’s something for everybody. The person who’s really interested in vintage athletics will love our tees, someone who loves rock ‘n roll will love our Freddy Mercury and our Live Aid t-shirts and then we have some more whimsical, colorful or girly ones. I think there’s something for everyone and there’s a cause for everyone, too.

Click here to follow Marc Jay on Twitter!

 

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