Brady Fernandes was just a high school junior when he launched his very first business, Patriot Threads, on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2015. His goal is to raise at least $10,000 for various charities that support wounded warriors and veterans by the next presidential election.
It is much more than a required school project for the soon-to-be-high school senior. “At CAK (Christian Academy of Knoxville) you start on the Capstone Project in your junior year,” he said. “You put it in motion and you finish it out in your final year.” It is a service project that the student creates, plans and implements. Ideas can run the gamut from coaching a youth sports team to launching a business, according to Fernandes.
“I decided to start a business with meaning behind it,” he said of his decision to sell his own brand of merchandise and donate a portion of the proceeds. “I’m passionate about supporting our troops and having quality clothing.” Fernandes’ grandfather was a veteran and his neighbor did two tours of Iraq and gave him a flag.
“Our logo has two meanings,” said Fernandes of the images of a bow tie wrapped around a map of America or a Tennessee flag. “It’s a bowtie to represent Southern gentlemen and the yellow ribbons they tie around trees.”
Fernandes started out designing a T-shirt. “I got out a sketchpad and pencil and spent a weekend messing around (with the design), then brought it to my dad, and said I wanted to start this brand,” he explained. His father took him to Threads, a local screen printing business. “We brought the design to them and they made it a little bit prettier and it went from there,” said Fernandes.
He purchased the domain for Patriot Threads and built his own website. The first order was placed for 200 T-shirts and they were sold through the website initially. “We started out just hoping everything would work,” said Fernandes, who used part of his savings from his part-time retail job to kick start the company.
T-shirt sizes run from adult small to XXL, the short sleeve design featuring a pocket retails for $28 and the long sleeve for $35. Other merchandise now includes popular “Croakies” (sunglasses retainer), lanyards, wooden coasters, 12-ounce coffee mugs, flags, spirit jerseys, fleece blankets and even pens and stickers for just $4 or $2 each, respectively. They are adding mesh-snap back trucker and baseball style caps to the online store.
Shoppers have the option to customize the bowtie color to local favorite — including orange of course — and add a state flag symbol to the side. “Basically anything you can put a logo on,” added Fernandes.
Fernandes, with the help of his father, Craig, currently runs the business from a home office “chockful” of Patriot Threads merchandise. Because Fernandes is a minor, his dad made the calls to set up meetings at retailers such as HoundDogs, Alumni Hall, Uncle Lem’s Mountain Outfitters and the Knoxville Visitors Center downtown. “We would tell them our story and what we stand for and they picked up the brand,” said Fernandes of the positive reaction they received.
“Brady would do all of the talking, but because he is 17 he can’t sign all of the agreements,” said Craig Fernandes of his role in the company. “I want to help him get a good start, I want to be involved.”
And it just so happens that Craig Fernandes has a useful background in marketing. His company recently downsized and his current workload as a consultant on marketing projects gives him a lot of flexibility. Brady’s grandmother was also impressed with the project and wanted to lend her support, so she gave him some seed money to buy more inventory. Fernandes’ girlfriend helps out taking photos of merchandise for the website and their social media, and his friends are always happy to model for Patriot Threads.
Fernandes currently has $20,000 invested in the business. “Doors have been opening up for the business and we’ve been able to do a lot of good with five to six fundraisers already,” said Craig Fernandes. “Doors keep opening, we met with Susan G. Komen Foundation and plan to provide them with Patriot Threads merchandise with a pink U.S. or Tennessee map and bowtie for a fundraiser.”
At a recent lunch meeting, Mayor Tim Burchett pledged his support to help connect Patriot Threads with local area nonprofits that Fernandes can help with fundraising. The same lunch was attended by Robert “Buzz” Buswell, Knox County Veterans and Senior Services; retired Tennessee Air National Guard Col. Richard Julian, who serves as Knox County’s assistant veteran service officer; and Pat Gibson, chief executive assistant to the mayor.
“My goal is for Brady to have an opportunity to give back to those that are less fortunate. So far he has continued to open doors,” said Craig Fernandes.
The first official fundraising event for Patriot Threads was the “Pint Night” at River Sports Outfitters last March. Proceeds benefited Project Healing Waters.
By word of mouth, Fernandes has heard of charities that are making a difference and takes the time to meet them in person. “We want them to know what we stand for, that we’re not trying to freeload — we’re passionate and want to help,” said Craig Fernandes. “We are a lot more than just a clothing brand, we are here to make a difference…
“It’s a chance for the community to rally around the common goal to help primarily veteran nonprofits,” he said. “It is a home grown company that from the get-go is designed around helping others.”
For the month of June they are donating 15% of all online sales to the featured nonprofit, Tennessee Valley Coalition for the Homeless, and if shoppers add “Funding MHN” in the address line when they check out, Patriot Threads will donate a further 10% to the Men’s Health Network. In July, they plan to support the Second Harvest Food bank. “The featured charity automatically receives the 10-15% no matter what people buy,” added Craig Fernandes.
It has been a heady couple of months since the business was launched last year and there has been a definite learning curve. “We had some growing pains in the first two months — making the website look good, getting photos taken and building a reputation from scratch,” said Brady Fernandes. “We had to prove that we were serious, and in January things started to pick up after a radio interview, and it has been a lot faster since January.”
They have copyrighted the design, and the trademark will issue on June 24. The company will own the trademark name and the image of the US with the bowtie across it. And the business has also been incorporated. “We are official, Brady is the CEO and we have meetings around our coffee table,” said Craig Fernandes.
“It was a huge relief,” said Brady Fernandes of the trademark and copyright. “When I first made it up, I thought it sounded really original but I was nervous that something would get in the way.”
Organizations can add their company logo, name or event title and date above the existing Patriot Threads logo on the T-shirts for a nominal fee if they order at a minimum of 12 per style. Turnaround is as little as three days and Patriot Threads can print on demand small and large quantities. “For someone who can’t afford 150 at a time it is an inexpensive option,” said Fernandes.
Fernandes and his father have even more plans for Patriot Threads. “I’m going to redesign it now that I understand it more,” said Fernandes of his website. “Make it more aesthetically pleasing, add more merchandise and have more of a presence on it, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.”
Once school starts again in the fall, they hope to have their Patriot Threads Ambassador Program fully operational. They have been recruiting student ambassadors to represent the brand at major Southern College campuses.
“We started at Maryville College as they got a grant from the Tennessee Governor to support veteran students,” said Craig Fernandes. They set up a table at a career fair and recruited four students after meeting with them one on one. Those students will be given merchandise to wear and, it is hoped, put a fundraiser together on campus.
They also met with other student veterans at UT at the end of the school year. “The brand lends itself to a fundraiser for the veterans and an event will help them assimilate into the college,” said Craig Fernandes. “We hope that through word of mouth, sororities and fraternities will use it as fundraisers. It will be easier when Brady goes to UT.”
Fernandes also hopes this will become a movement across all of the SEC schools. “It would be nice to put Knoxville on the map for that,” said Craig Fernandes. “The more Brady gets out there, he will develop a brand as a very ethical company.”
“Life is short and a lot of people put their lives on the line for their country, and we want people to think of them every day,” said Brady Fernandes. “Patriot Threads can do that for any event.”
More: Patriot Threads, 865-805-3238, www.patriot threads.org