It wasn’t supposed to become a full-time business.
Jackie and Ben Moore’s Summer Shirt Project was originally intended to be exactly that: a short-term summer project to help their daughter Jordyn learn some useful job skills by distributing a few t-shirts.
Three years and over 300,000 shirts later, the Moores are still at it and looking forward to helping even more people through the summer project that took on a life of its own.
The Best-Laid Plans
In 2017, Jordyn was 16 years old and fast approaching the age when she would be finished with high school. Like many parents, Jackie and Ben were concerned about what her next steps would be and wanted to help give her the skills she would need to thrive in a professional world.
Unlike most parents, the Moores had an additional factor to consider. Jordyn’s autism meant that many opportunities that exist for most children aging out of school simply did not exist for Jordyn, or they came with significant limitations.
The original plan was simple. “We were just looking to sell a few t-shirts to our family and friends,” explains Jackie. “We could create a cool shirt and Jordyn could learn to roll it, package it and get it ready to send out.”
The first shirts bore a simple yet meaningful message: “Be Kind to Everyone.” With a clear message and a plan, the Moore family set to work.
Their goal, originally posted on Jackie’s personal Facebook page in 2018, was to sell and distribute 40 shirts. This was the minimum amount that the printer could feasibly print at the time. “I remember thinking ‘What are we ever going to do with 40 shirts?’” says Jackie with a laugh. She thought they would have a few left over.
However, word was already spreading. They ran the operation from their home in Atlanta. Orders came in and Jordyn prepared each shirt for shipment, personally signing a thank-you card to include with each shirt before it was sent. As the campaign grew, they soon ran through their initial order of 40 shirts and had to request more from Advanced Embroidery and Screen Printing – the company that printed the original run and still prints them today.
The initial promotion of the project was through Facebook and Instagram, and the Moores eventually found surprising success for “Be Kind to Everyone” on a new platform: TikTok. The audience there was receptive and supportive, and for many this was their first introduction to autism. Jackie uses each platform for more than just selling shirts. “We provide education and information about autism, which also often drives sales.”
In March of 2020 they moved the operation into a 3,000 square-foot warehouse space – it had outgrown the confines of their home. Today, the designs include several styles of shirts and different messages, and feature both the original Jordyn design as well as one named after her younger brother, Hudson. Demand for the shirts has never slowed down, not even during the global pandemic.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” recalls Jackie, “and a lot of luck.”
While the initial goals of the campaign have been amply accomplished, Jackie and Ben are now setting their sights a little higher.
“The driving force is always Jordyn,” says Jackie. The full-time work environment they created for her can now be extended to others, meaning neurodivergent and typical teenagers alike. The proceeds still support Jordyn’s future, but are also donated to local food banks, day programs to help autistic children learn life and job skills, and Jordyn’s personal favorite, the Tim Tebow Foundation. Always, Jackie explains, with a focus on kindness.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the campaign has changed Jordyn’s life. Like many individuals with autism, she is limited verbally and others often shy away from that. “Suddenly, everywhere she went people knew her, wanted to talk to her, even asked for autographs and selfies,” explains Jackie. “She has really thrived on the attention.”
Jordyn also thrives on the many new experiences the project-turned-business provides. She can roll shirts independently and package the ink pens they now sell in addition to shirts. While she can’t sign a thank-you card for each shirt anymore due to demand, she still stamps her name on the card to allow her to keep up. Her involvement has improved her language skills and taught her about marketing, and working with other teens has opened up the chance to simply be social when they ask her to go out and spend time with them outside of work.
Jackie has found that her experience is one that others can learn from, and has been invited as a speaker for companies who want to know more about hiring employees with disabilities. “I’ve been given an unexpected voice,” she says. “I need to use it.”
While we often refer to our belief that business is personal, few have lived that idea more than the Moore family. The key to their success is that their original goal was much bigger than the number of shirts they sold. The true goal was printed on the first shirts they made.
Be kind to everyone.