At Thrift Element Apparel Co., our vision is to create a world where conversation matters. Our business supports this vision by offering a wide range of socially conscious apparel including T-Shirts, Sweatshirts and Hoodies, Dad Hats, Children's T-Shirts and even Canvas Art.
" I want to do something different and meaningful. I didn’t grow up in the best environment or could afford the best clothes. So i decided to make my own clothes; clothes with a message.”
At just 26 years old, Desiree Robinson became a wife, entrepreneur and more recently, a new mother. Although time is wired thin these days, she has a loving husband who allows her to focus on her dream of developing a successful business. Around 2012, Desiree was inspired by a friend who had started their own website selling clothes from their closet.
“I thought it was interesting and a lucrative business.” she says." I took their idea and ran with it creating my own thing. I started off making clothes from scrap fabrics and cheap sweatshirts from Walmart or Forman Mills. I sold maybe 3 of those designs in a week but it just became too time consuming; custom making sweatshirts and restocking supplies. I wasn’t making any profit. The money i made from the sell was spent on fabric for the next order. So over the years i experimented. I even tried selling clothes from my own closet just like my friend but that wasn’t what i really wanted to do. Staring at the ceiling in a room in West Philly, on a bed that didn’t belong to me and my life’s belongings stuffed in trash bags in the corner, i figured it out. ‘I want to create clothes that mean something’.
And that’s what she did. To learn more about the business, she was told by a family member that there was an up and coming screenprinting company named Philadelphia Printworks that was looking for an intern. Although money was very tight, she jumped at the unpaid opportunity and gained experience. ” I learned how to screenprint, how to launch a line and i also learned about the dont’s .” With that knowledge, she revamped Thrift Element and gives you what you see today!
Thrift Element was officially founded in 2013. It has evolved from hand-sewn shirts to screenprinting shirts by hand to now having a fulfillment company creating every shirt on demand specifically for each particular customer. Despite being founded 3 years prior, in November 2016 Thrift Element burst on to the social media scene with the infamous "Dear Racism, I am not my grandparents. Sincerely, These Hands " shirts. Using our last $40 in our business accounts, we paid multiple instagram pages to promote this new, in your face T-Shirt. By morning, we began receiving texts and messages telling us that we had gone VIRAL! Our Dear Racism shirt was everywhere! It has been seen on NBCBLK, Very Smart Brothas and on Rollingout Magazines' Instagram page. It was even talked about on Power 105.1 's The Breakfast Club during an interview with Michael Eric Dyson in which Radio Personality, Charlamagne the God called our shirts "stupid".
Despite the backlash and accusations of our 'Dear Racism' tee being "a-historical" and "disrepectful to our ancestors" we managed to sell approx. 360 shirts totaling over $$11,305.76 in sales over the span of 3 months. Since going viral in November 2016, we have sold over 500 shirts pulling in 36.8k website visitors, gaining over 4.9k Instagram followers and over $12k in sales.
Donations are also a big part of Thrift Element as we pride ourselves on not just selling to the Black Community but giving back to our people as well. In April 2017, Thrift Element hosted a public screening of 'TIME: The Kalief Browder Story' in North Philadelphia. It bothered us that something this important could only be seen on cable; a luxury that not all people have. So we acquired space at the Community Futures Lab, set up a projector and watched the documentary. We raised money for the Kalief Browder Scholarship fund at Bronx Community College and gave away custom made notebooks featuring our Fannie Lou Hamer design of our underrated 'Forgotten Women of Civil Rights' Collection.
On the day of the Women's March, March 4, 2017, Thrift Element (using all of their profits from the 'Dear Racism' shirt) hosted it's very first Pop Up shop at Amalgam Comics and Coffehouse in Philadelphia. Our 'Forgotten Women of Civil Rights' Collection features pivitol yet unsung women in Black History portrayed as the Superheroes that they are. The first black female owned comic store was the perfect place to launch this collection. Within a few hours, we were sold out racking in over $700. Coverage of this collection can be seen on Generocity.org , The Philadelphia Citizen, Philly Metro and on Fashion Blogger Bryce Lennon's website, Brycelennon.com. CNN Analyst, Angela Rye, stated "Love It!" in our Instagram DM's and Ivory Toldson of NBCBLK simply left us a heart emoji on our Instagram page @Tethrift .
Thrift Element Apparel Co. currently consists of just on Team Member, Desiree Robinson who is also the founder. Desiree's love for Black History developed at Freire Charter High in the 11th grade. After researching the Black Panther Party for a school assignment, her people then became her passion. Desiree Robinson attended Florida Memorial University as a Biology major later switching to Psychology. Desiree saw the effects of Mental Health and lack of conversations about it within the Black Community and wanted to change the rhetoric that black people don't see therapists. During her Junior year, she was told that she no longer had financial aid and in order to finish college she would have to take out a loan from the bank. Desiree returned back to Philadelphia where she worked multiple jobs in the hopes of finishing her education. After seeing the corporate world was not for her, she took her power back and propelled Thrift Element to new heights. With Business Mogul Dame Dash as her mentor (atleast in her mind) , she vowed to never give another person to ability to control her wealth, success or her life. She was blessed (and sometimes cursed) with the gift of ' saying it like it is' and that's what she felt the black community needed. The Black Community is mentally traumatized by the things endured throughout centuries and Desiree wanted to create a business that allows people to "get it out and say how they feel" through their clothing. Thrift Element Apparel snatched back our voice from those who have oppreseed us.
Our company was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is based online at www.tethrift.com. Thrift Element is self-funded using all profits to create and spread love in our community.