(Published Originally 08.04.15 on ARTISCEND.COM)
Written By J. Randolph
Fittingly, it all started with a conversation. Tom Richardson and Rob Frohlking were both at a rough spot in their lives. Staying in a homeless shelter at the time, the two men formed a friendship and when a gentleman came in with the word “college” written on his sweater (reminiscent of John Belushi in Animal House), it sparked a conversation that resulted in some good laughs and a good time.
That initial discussion carried over to the next day (this time with a different word) and the next day until the two friends eventually had the epiphany that the one word written on a shirt had sparked more dialogue, laughter, and joy than they had experienced in a long time.
Bouncing ideas off of friends in the church and community, the men resolved to create a line of one-word T-Shirts to help spark conversations. They began what was literally foot-work (they had to walk many places without any reliable transportation) to gather information and support. After much due diligence including researching thousands of fonts, shirt fabrics and fabric qualities not to mention legitimizing their business, the two friends pulled together some cash and invested in printing nearly 400 shirts, thus Conversation Tees was born.
Today, only six months removed from forming their LLC, Frohlking and Richardson have sold hundreds more of their T-Shirts across North Carolina and abroad. They’ve built an online store and can be found in three local shops in downtown Raleigh. However, Frohlking and Richardson’s true passion isn’t just a growing business. It’s also giving back to the community that helped change their lives.
In partnership with the Oak City Outreach Center, the two budding entrepreneurs contribute 10% of their sales to the fight against homelessness. “It’s something that’s very personal to us. We want to be able to give something back to the community that has given us so much”, says Richardson.
Conversation Tees isn’t just about the bottom line; it’s about potentially helping someone. Richardson continued, “That’s the whole idea is for people to engage in conversation…who knows you might meet your new best friend, spouse, employer, the [possibilities] are endless”.
When asked what legacy they want to leave behind Richardson and Frohlking replied, “We’re convinced it’s something God has given to us…our story is one about hope. We went from a really bad [and] low place in our lives to a position where we’re able to give back and that’s what it’s about…because when you help somebody else you’re helping yourself ten times over; when you pay it forward it’s both giving and receiving”.
Conversation Tees’ current shirts feature four different words – “Obviously”, “Exactly”, “Really”, and “Know”. OBVIOUSLY, these guys KNOW EXACTLY what the spirit of community REALLY means.