Desired Hearts – A Charitable Business Model

Desired Hearts is the newest fashion startup from Roby Fitzhenry, Creative Director of  Always Creative and Matthew Fruge. They are the latest to join the handful of T-shirt design submission sites that have ongoing contests for cash prizes. The most well known site based on this model is Threadless, however, both Roby and Matt are quick to point out that Desired Hearts has no desire to compete with the Threadless powerhouse. Instead, they plan to have the ongoing contests be a component to the larger plan – to develop a top fashion label by enlisting well-known and established artists and designers, while at the same time making sure that proceeds from profits earned is donated to deserving charities. 

I had the fortunate opportunity to talk to Roby and Matt from Desired Hearts. They talk a bit about how Desired Hearts was founded and how the charitable model was conceived. Matt and Roby also discuss how they are challenging themselves, collectively as a team, to develop a quality driven fashion label. 

Coty: Charity plays a big role in Desired Hearts’ business model. How did the idea of making charity a major component of Desired Hearts come about?

Roby: Matt came to us (Always Creative) with the idea of starting a clothing company that gives to charity. Our entire team became immediately interested and a business deal was struck. The more we thought about the idea, the more we all loved it, which eventually led to us even renaming the idea to Desired Hearts. Our name represents the love that everyone seeks out whether it be from support for your t-shirt design, support of a specific charity or even just the feeling that you’re a part of something greater. Hopefully in the future we can change the way businesses look at philanthropy.

Matt: I don’t remember the exact moment I had the idea. I think it came to be over a period of time thinking about different ways of doing business. The guys and gals at Threadless really pioneered the community driven business model. I didn’t really want Desired Hearts to be another Threadless, but the value of your customers’ feedback before you go into production is priceless. We really want to bring that model to the world of fashion, with custom garments from designers who might not have the resources available to get it done themselves. The charity part was always going to be part of whatever the business became. Like Roby mentioned, the original name was Donor Threads…lol! Looking back, I’m glad they worked their re-branding magic on the name.

Coty: The charity component has changed a bit and you have also elicited input from the Emptees community as to how Desired Hearts should go about “giving” to charities. Explain a bit about how the charity part of Desired Hearts works.

Roby: I love the Emptees community and respect their opinions. Although I’m still a rather new member, we decided to put our questions to the community in hopes of solid feedback. Initially, we were going to just give $2 per shirt to charity, $3 per shirt to the winning designer as well as initial winnings of $500. However, we’ve decided to give $5 per shirt to charity and $500 to the winning designer with the choice to keep the cash or give some or all to a charity of their choice. Everyone needs a little cash sometimes and we respect that. We just hope that as the site grows, the amount of proceeds we give to charities grows with it.

Matt: Ditto!

Coty: The online communities that have developed at Threadless and Design By Humans seems to be a driving force behind the growth of those brands. How do you plan to build the community at Desired Hearts and do you have any plans for utilizing the various social networking tools (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc) available to build you community?

Roby: Great question. One thing we feel is very different about Desired Hearts is that we are really trying to develop a fashion label. Although we will have ongoing contests, we’re also seeking out and commissioning top designers to collaborate with our in-house team. We already have two amazing designers lined up for collaboration so stay tuned for the news! We will also continue to be as fully integrated in social media platforms as we can. We’re on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter and will be expanding to others soon. Our fingers are crossed that people realize that you can support a fashion label and the world around you simultaneously.

Matt: The Social Media movement, or whatever you want to call it, has really kind of taken the place of what T.V. used to represent in people’s lives. It’s a connection with the rest of the world, and what they are doing on a whole new level.  And as far as marketing goes, I’ll be the first to admit that online ads are just as annoying as T.V. commercials, but marketing through your own network of people that are somewhat interested in whatever you are doing is taking the ability of targeted marketing to companies that don’t have an advertising budget. And it’s not an “in the face” approach like traditional ads. People can come to you on their own terms, which makes for a higher quality user. We plan on using these resources as best we can in order to grow our community of like-minded people.

Coty: How did you go about selecting the initial crop of charities that Desired Hearts and its designers will be donating too? Any plans on expanding this list of charities in the future?

Matt: We know there are thousands of non-profits out there doing great things, and we would love to be able to touch them all. However, just starting out, we wanted to use some that maybe everyone has heard of. Another reason for keeping the list small is impact. If we started out with 20 different charities, then each one might be getting $2.50 every three months or so (we pay out donations quarterly). We figured we could have a greater impact if we were giving $100 or whatever instead. So until business picks up a little, we would like to keep the list around the same size. But we definitely will be adding to the list as the company’s capabilities to help those charities grow.

Roby: Ditto back at Matt! However, I wanted to also mention that we really are planning to push DH as a way to help community efforts such as fundraisers, etc. Once we fine-tune all these details, we’ll make some updates on the site so people know what’s up.

Coty: As the co-founder of Desired Hearts, what has the experience of building a startup been like? Has it been everything you’ve expected?

Roby: Luckily, Always Creative has been in business just long enough for us all to know what to expect: nothing at all. Startups are never guaranteed and I think that’s what makes it so exciting. We’ve taken an idea we’re extremely proud of, used endless hours and cups of coffee to refine it, and then sent it out for the world to see (and hopefully love). Lesson for those interested: you need capital. Trust me on that one.

Matt: Definitely need money! Not to say you can’t bootstrap it, because we are. You have to be smart about what you spend your money on for sure. If you run out, you’re pretty much dead in the water. Luckily we are still swimming…ha-ha. And I’m glad we are debt free. It would be awesome to have a loan amount big enough to do everything we want to do right off the bat, but sometimes it’s best to go slow so you don’t make the mistakes that end up costing thousands of dollars. And at the end of the month, who wants to worry about another bill! Moral of the story: know what size fish you are and eat accordingly.

Coty: Finally, what are some of the goals that you and the rest of the Desired Hearts team have set for the new site?

Matt: We want to continue to polish the site and add new features, both on the front end and the back end. This is my first web-based project, and I must say I had no idea how much development takes place when creating a site from scratch. The guys at Downtown Cartel and Always Creative, have done an amazing job conceptualizing, branding, a building the site. We’ve had our ups and downs, but overall it’s been one of the coolest and most rewarding things I’ve done.

Roby: Haha .. happy Matt doesn’t hate us. One of our team members, Jimmy, the guy who did all the sweet icons and helped with the overall site design, is definitely becoming our “Director of Cool”. He has thrown out some great ideas about how we can make Desired Hearts run with the best. Some of our ideas include making our own custom shirts which will most likely come from a “cut and sew” competition. We plan to continue to make as many small videos of our adventures as possible and work with some of the top talent in the industry. We’re also gearing up to launch shirts that focus more on our identity just to give people options. I’d say our biggest goal is just to challenge what’s expected out of a company our size. No one on our collective team backs down to a challenge. Our challenge: to create a high-end, custom fashion label that is respected for quality, individuality, the ability to give and the guts to take things on head first.

I definitely have to thanks both Roby and Matt for agreeing to take the time out to do this interview with me – it is very much appreciated! Also a big shout out to Roby for working closely with me on this, going back and forth on email was definitely worth it! I wish the Desired Hearts team the best of luck with this awesome venture!

And just in case you haven’t already seen this, here’s a behind the scenes sneak peak at the Desired Hearts photo shoot for the initial set of t-shirt prints.

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