Back in October, I attended the Circle of Sister's show at the Jacob Javits Center to support my friend, Dawn McGee's custom made handbag business at her booth (see my blog post at http://www.sarahflanneryphotography.com/blog/2015/8/19/hands-on-dawn-mcgee for more on Dawn). While checking out the other vendors, I stumbled upon Kool Nerd Clothing. Being a proud graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a (self-proclaimed) cool nerd myself, I decided to buy a t-shirt. In the midst of that transaction, a gentlemen from Kool Nerd walked up to me and started trying to convince me to buy a sweatshirt. We got into a negotiation on price (his idea, not mine) and I walked away with a t-shirt and sweatshirt. As a parting shot in the negotiation, I mentioned my Hands On project, we exchanged info, and I ended up taking pictures of the Kool Nerd screen printing process in early November.
Kool Nerd Clothing is a social enterprise and it's 4.0 program is simple - every item of clothing purchased results in a donation of $4 to STEAM programs which are aimed at getting kids interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. I personally believe that in order to keep America competitive, getting our kids involved in STEAM careers is imperative. According to a 2012 McKinsey study*, it was found that despite doubling the number of college graduations in the past 20 years, the supply of high-skill workers has not kept up with demand. It is estimated that we will need to increase college graduations 2.5 times as quickly as the current rate. Advanced countries also need to guide more students to job-relevant training; it was noted that in the United States, as an example, only 14% of college degrees awarded are in STEM fields.
Currently, Kool Nerd Clothing is working with New York based organizations: Amani Public Charter School in Yonkers and Arch for Kids (short for architecture) in NYC and Westchester. The owner, Orane Barrett, hopes to broaden the program nationally, but for now he's starting in his local market.
So what is a Kool Nerd? Orane describes it as someone who pursues their passion without conforming. And that is what Orane Barrett is all about. He got involved in Kool Nerd Clothing as an investor in 2013, but quickly began to take more of the operation over and eventually bought out his business partners. After having a career as an engineer (B.S. in chemical engineering from University of Rochester) and as an investment banker (MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology), he quit his full time job to devote 100% of his attention to Kool Nerd. He brought in a visual artist and graphic designer, Kwami Delfish to assist with the company and the artwork, and other members of the team to start working on the brand. The team launched a small Kickstarter campaign to raise awareness, rather than money, which led to interviews on MSNBC and for Entrepreneur. Their target markets include stores like Zumiez and Urban Outfitters. Orane is also attending fairs and conventions to build awareness...right before our shoot, Orane had been at the New Jersey Education Association convention in Atlantic City, displaying his clothing and talking to the teachers about his mission.
As Kool Nerd Clothing was starting to expand, Orane was looking for a printer who a) understood the market he was after - high school/college age young adults and millenials - and b) was able to grow with him. A mutual friend introduced him to David Krinick, a fellow U of R grad, and owner of MESH Print Studios. MESH Print started out as a community print shop, but has expanded rapidly to include national clients - he prints pillow cases for Casper mattresses - and has it's own t-shirt brand. In addition to his screen printing business, David recently came into possession of some vintage printing press equipment and is looking to start a venture doing Renaissance style printing. Once David gets his presses up and running, I hope to have him as the subject for a future blog post.
I was able to observe David screen printing Kool Nerd t-shirts and sweatshirts on the night of the shoot with two different designs. The process was more manually intensive than I was expecting, particularly when he was printing in two colors, which you can see on the black sweatshirts - most of the logo is gold, but the center of the glasses is white. Some shots of David's proces are below:
I want to thank David for allowing me to follow him while he worked and Orane for spending some time with me giving me more information on his company. I want to encourage everyone reading this to go to the Kool Nerd Clothing site: http://koolnerdclothing.myshopify.com/ and buy something for the Kool Nerd in your life. Remember: $4 of each sale goes directly to helping kids get involved in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Think of it as an investment in the future of America!
* The World at Work: Jobs, pay and skills for 3.5 billion people, McKinsey Global Institute, June 2012