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Ivory Ella Brings $55,000 Surprise to Tennessee High School

Remember the Wearables T-Shirt Challenge for Charity? Our August feature profiling the winner and eight finalists wasn’t the end of the story. After trendy elephant-themed apparel brand Ivory Ella was crowned winner, print production specialist Jay Reid says he wanted to do something more to help the first runner-up, high school teacher Sandy Wheeley and her digital design class, which had been raising money for nonprofit Abigail’s Plan. Last month, Reid visited Lawrence County High School in Tennessee, armed with roughly $55,000 worth of decorating equipment and apparel.

Sandy Wheeley, a teacher at Lawrence County High School, learns screen-printing techniques from Jay Reid, print production specialist at Ivory Ella. (Photo courtesy of Jessie Fox, digital media producer for Ivory Ella)

  

“It just started out that I wanted to do something nice for them,” Reid says. “As the ball got rolling and more sponsors got on board, it just exploded. It was all about doing as much as I could possibly do for them.”

Ivory Ella is a popular online apparel brand that donates a portion of its profits to Save the Elephants and other charities. Abigail’s Plan was created by the family of a teen with Down syndrome who dreamed of playing baseball. After several years of fundraising, the nonprofit built a rubberized baseball field for the local “Buddy Ball” league; now it's drumming up dollars for other initiatives, including several disability-accessible playgrounds.

During our month-long T-shirt Challenge for Charity earlier this year, Ivory Ella and Abigail’s Plan were neck and neck, though Ivory Ella edged out the Lawrence County High School class at the end, nabbing 5,662 online votes to the high school’s 4,264. “We have such a social media following it was very easy to click and win,” Reid explains. What Lawrence County had, however, was something else: a small, but strong community pulling together to support a common cause. Reid says he felt compelled to recognize their strength.

Prior to his trip to Tennessee, Reid created two limited-edition Ivory Ella designs. The first was an elephant dotted with wildcat paw prints in the high school’s colors. He brought 450 shirts for Wheeley’s class. By selling them for $30 each, Wheeley will be able to raise $13,500 to fund her design class. Reid also brought roughly 300 shirts featuring an elephant patterned with baseball stitching in puff ink. Those garments were meant to benefit Abigail’s Plan directly, putting an extra $9,000 in the nonprofit’s coffers.

Equipment manufacturers, including Ryonet, M&R, Stahls’ and Workhorse Products, pledged roughly $23,000 in brand-new equipment to outfit Wheeley’s classroom. In addition, Reid brought several gift packs, stuffed with Ivory Ella swag, to reward a handful of students at Lawrence County High School, including Abigail Kidd, whose eponymous plan originally spurred the Lawrence County community to action.

The digital design class at Lawrence County High School in Tennessee received roughly $55,000 in equipment and other gifts from Ivory Ella. (Photo courtesy of Jessie Fox, digital media producer for Ivory Ella)

 

Wheeley says she was stunned by the generosity and love shown by Reid and his co-workers at Ivory Ella. “To say I’m humbled is not even adequate,” she adds. “When Jay said he wanted to do something nice for us, my hope was that Ivory Ella would design a special needs shirt and give part of the proceeds to Abigails Plan.” The scope of the donations Reid announced at a school assembly left Wheeley speechless. “And I don’t get speechless often,” she adds.

The next step in Reid’s plan will be to fly Wheeley up to Ivory Ella’s Rhode Island production facility to train her on their top-of-the-line screen-printing equipment. Then, after all the donated equipment arrives and gets set up in Wheeley’s classroom, Reid plans to return to Tennessee to make sure everything is functioning seamlessly. “I want to make sure that she’s 100% self-sufficient,” Reid says.

Wheeley says she can’t wait to teach her students using the new equipment and techniques she’ll learn from Reid. “My students will be getting secrets from the top of the trade,” she says. “They’re going to be so much more well-equipped with their skills than they ever were before.”