Stitches

Helping Homeless Vets

Mark Doyle isn’t a military veteran, and he didn’t know anything about the decorated apparel industry. But that didn’t stop him from creating Chicago-based Rags of Honor, a screen-printing shop that employs homeless and unemployed veterans. The company’s tagline explains the concept: “They had our backs, now let’s keep the shirt on theirs.”

Rags of Honor currently employs nine veterans, who are trained in every aspect of the business. Hiring the homeless presents some logistical difficulties, Doyle says. In the beginning, he had to pick up employees from the shelter and shuttle them to the office. Several didn’t have bank accounts when they started, so he had to drive them somewhere to cash their paychecks.

The rewards outweigh any inconveniences. “We’ve built a little company where people feel they’ve got brothers and sisters who understand them,” Doyle says.

Doyle has even had employees turn down other jobs that offer higher pay because they feel so connected to Rags of Honor. His ultimate goal, however, is to train the veterans in how to run a small business, giving them the tools they need to gain economic independence and fulfilling careers, he says.

Though Rags of Honor has only been operating for about nine months, it’s already been licensed by the Big 10 conference and completed orders for five ESPN bowl games last year. The company made more than $150,000 in its first nine months, and Doyle says it’s on pace to double that number by year’s end.

Doyle would like to expand the Rags of Honor concept to other cities, to help employ homeless vets across the country. The statistics are staggering: There are 48,000 homeless veterans of the war in Afghanistan, he says. “We’re going to fix it one T-shirt at a time,” Doyle says.