2016 marked our fourth year in business, and became the most important year yet for the growth and development of our company. We started off the year financially strong through partnerships with Michigan State's Spartan Ski Club, Snowboard Club, and Lansing United professional soccer team. These all helped expand our reach and build our support base.
In early March, while I was representing York Project at South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, I received news that York Project had been selected to participate in the inaugural cohort of the Michigan State University Conquer Accelerator program. Of 48 teams that applied, York Project was 1 of 6 teams selected to participate. As a part of this 10 week program York Project also received a $20,000 investment for a 5% share of the company. My main goals in participating in this program were to define our market, build a sales funnel, and find a co-founder.
Not long after the news of Conquer was received, York Project was featured in a newspaper article by, "The State News" about student entrepreneurs. Immediately following York Project was a section about other East Lansing clothing line, Free Will Supply. The company was a line founded in March 2016 by Will Taylor. After reading the blurb and checking it out, I thought it was a pretty cool idea, and Will seemed like he knew what he was doing.
In early May, with Conquer fast approaching, I found myself talking with a mutual friend of Will's. "You two need to meet," she said. And after a week or so of badgering both of us, we finally did get together.
After just one meeting, Will and I knew we had the potential to do some cool things in the upcoming summer. We had similar goals for owning our own clothing line, and shared a vision to be able to do more than just sell product. We both wanted to use our passions for clothing and apparel to make a difference in our community.
So one week later, we began the accelerator program, planning for the future of York Project. We were outlining our first big fall launch, building our new webstore, and hiring part time employees to make it all happen. By August, we had recruited Evan for video work, Zach for photos, Cassidy, Dean, Alex, and Sara for marketing, and Peggy and Kaitlin to help out with production. It was such a crazy feeling to go in to work every day and interact with so many people that were working to help achieve a shared goal that Will and I had set.
Aside from business operations, Summer 16 was also pivotal in solidifying York Project's donation efforts. When I first started in 2013, York Project would donate beanies, t-shirts, pants, gloves, hand warmers--whatever I could get my hands on. I thought that whatever got donated would be helpful. But I realized very quickly that homeless individuals often didn't need the things I was giving them. Some of the most common items that get requested are socks, toilet paper, and water, so York Project began donating these items more frequently.
On the first donation of the summer that Will came to, he noticed that while these items were great to give, they presented a problem: they were often very hard to carry, or would sometimes rip through the grocery bags that people were using to carry their wares. Will suggested that we consolidate our donation in a canvas tote, which we now call our Donation Kit. Throughout 2016, York Project helped donate 6,000+ items and 1,000+ donation kits.
By August, we released our Fall 2016 line. Every piece was hand sewn, screen printed, labeled, and/or packaged by Will, me, or someone on our team. It was a great feeling knowing that our hard work was helping provide aid to people in need while making our customers look and feel great at the same time.
The success from the fall line continued to mount and carried us to the release of our winter line. In between, we also were featured in Lansing State Journal article, "5 Entrepreneurs to Watch in Lansing" and CBS Detroit's "Street Beat," both of which helped broaden our reach.
Our Winter 2016 line launched in early December, and helped contribute to one of our biggest sales months ever. We also were able to donate 1,000+ items in December alone through our annual Share the Warmth campaign. On top of this, we partnered with Cottonelle, who donated nearly 700 rolls of toilet paper.
Now, as we close the chapter that was 2016, we look back on what a great year it was for York Project. We truly were blessed and able to meet and work with so many amazing people. I cannot thank you all enough for all of the support you've shown York Project, and I truly believe that we did CREATE CHANGE in 2016.