Katie Cline, Editor-in-Chief
Red Threads Apparel presented JSU with a check for $35,000 on April 5. In the memo line, they wrote “students.”
For owner and JSU alumnae Amado Ortiz, that’s what it was all about: the students.
“There were other organizations doing good things [after the tornado],” Ortiz said. “The Methodist and Baptist Churches had both been doing fantastic jobs getting the community things they needed, but we wanted to put some focus back on the students. When the students are in town, we feel it as a business, the restaurants feel it as a business. They’re a big part of the population, and we wanted to help them.”
After the March 19 tornado, Red Threads, whose storefront is located on the Jacksonville Public Square, started a t-shirt campaign to raise money for those students who may have lost school supplies, books or apartments in the storm.
The shirts read “Gamecock Strong,” a nod to a popular hashtag that surfaced on social media in the hours after the tornado. The “o” in “strong” is the university’s Gamecock. Underneath the image is “Rebuild Jacksonville.”
The shirts were designed by Red Threads’ lead graphic designer, Anna Lee Weathers. Weathers, like all of Red Threads’ employees, is a JSU student or graduate. She graduated from JSU in 2007 with a degree in graphic design.
Red Threads’ campaign lasted from March 21 to April 1—just under two weeks—but the short campaign covered a big distance. Ortiz confirmed that “Gamecock Strong” shirts were shipped to 46 states. Only Maine, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island didn’t “go red.”
“We had sent some shirts to Hawaii before, especially after the band went and performed there, but what was interesting to us were the states that aren’t as populated: Wyoming, South Dakota, New Mexico and some of the others,” Ortiz said. “That’s what shocked us. I think one guy from Fargo, North Dakota is just a big North Dakota State fan, and he just saw the post where we tagged them, and he bought the shirt.”
But, more than money, Ortiz wanted to reach out to other alumni and let them know about the disaster, particularly in the early days.
“We just wanted to keep the momentum up and bring awareness to other alumni in the other areas,” Ortiz said. “Maybe they didn’t want to buy a shirt, but maybe they chose another avenue to help, whether they bought a different shirt or went to the Riley Green concert or whatever they wanted to do.”
Even some customers who ordered a shirt won’t be picking it up.
“We had some people leave us a note on their order asking us to donate the shirt to a displaced student,” Ortiz explained. “They were just looking to donate and maybe already had all the shirts they wanted and wanted to help a student.”
As of this week, Ortiz said that about 95 per cent of the shirts have been shipped and received. SGA President Ranger Rumrill wore his at Monday’s Welcome Back event. Some shirts are still available in-store to purchase, and Ortiz said Red Threads plans to make another smaller donation after the shirts have been sold.
As to the original $35,000 donation, JSU has already begun putting it to use. On Tuesday, the JSU Dean of Students Office posted a form that students can fill out if they need financial assistance. Students merely fill out the form requesting aid, and a committee determines their need and allocates funds.
“I think it’s important for student retention,” Ortiz said. “If the students feel like they weren’t helped, then they may choose to transfer or to finish online. They want to feel like the university cares.”
Ortiz and his wife, Allison, run Red Threads Apparel and its parent company, O-Brand Marketing. Both graduated from JSU in 2007 where they studied communications.
Ortiz hopes the donation will help students who really need it and make this difficult time a little easier.
“I know Red Threads is going to get a lot of credit,” Ortiz said, “but the real recognition goes to everyone who bought a shirt. A $20 shirt is only a $20 shirt, but if a lot of people buy a $20 shirt, that’s a big impact.”