What was the inspiration to start this clothing line? How did you get the idea?
Leann Abad: I live in Detroit, and as the news and my social feeds kept talking about the polar vortex, I came across a friend of mine who tweeted that “Polar Vortex” sounds like a really dope brand name, and as soon as I read that, a lightbulb went off in my head and I immediately bought the domain name and secured an Instagram handle. As I was brainstorming on this idea, I knew the toughest part of this would be to move fast enough before the meme became irrelevant. Then I started to think about how certain events capture the moments they create in the form of merch and products. Then it hit me. What if I made a fashion line around this and positioned the polar vortex as if it were a concert tour that only hit the Midwest? That’s when I hit up my friend Tyree Gorges, who’s a designer, with the idea and we got to work.
What experience do you have that put you in good stead to start this?
Abad: Before I dropped out of the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), I was a Fellow in their Entrepreneurial Leadership Program at the Center for Entrepreneurship. Through that program, I learned all the bare bones of entrepreneurship. That program helped me get started on my entrepreneurial journey, and since then I’ve learned a lot about various industries, including e-commerce and the DTC/DNVB space (Away, Casper, Bonobos, etc). I don’t have any specific fashion or e-commerce expertise, but I know enough about marketing and I’m a pretty fast learner. I just applied what I’ve been reading about for the past six months.
Tyree, on the other hand, has been designing since he was 15 years old. He’s designed for some local clothing brands.
How did the idea come about to donate half the proceeds to homeless shelters?
Abad: During the peak of the vortex, Detroit reached a record low temperature of -14 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking a 99-year record of -7 degrees. Chicago’s temperature went as low as -23 degrees. As cool as that sounds, this is a serious matter. During the vortex, I kept seeing posts and articles about how to help the homeless in Detroit, Chicago and other cities in the Midwest. Homeless shelters were recruiting volunteers to help manage the extra number of people they expected to lodge during the vortex, and some even became worried they would have to turn people away. I’m very privileged to have a place to go at night, a home to stay warm. I can’t even begin to fathom what life is like for homeless folks, especially during the winter. This project may be after the fact, but I still want to help support and show appreciation for the shelters and volunteers that worked through the frenzy to provide thousands the warmth and comfort they need.