Inspired by a bar, T-shirts promote charity

ProjectAl is a T-shirt business with a charitable hook

ProjectAl founders Derek Hood, right, and Charley Holden stand in front of their salvaged Al's Bar sign. Credit: Hemang Sharma

Charley Holden and Derek Hood both love beer and local bars, and their love for Al’s Bar in St. Louis Park, in particular, led them to launch ProjectAl last year.

A popular neighborhood hangout, Al’s Bar was demolished in 2009 to make way for a condo building. Impressed by the bar’s involvement in the local community and charity organizations, Holden and Hood decided to start a business that allows them to support local businesses and do charity at the same time.

ProjectAl designs T-shirts for neighborhood brick-and-mortar bars like Northeast’s Gasthof Zur Gemütlichkeit, the Red Dragon in The Wedge and even the late but inspirational Al’s Bar. The T-shirts are sold on their website, and when customers select their product they also choose a local charity that they want the purchase to benefit.

The proceeds are split evenly between three parties: the local business that is featured on the T-shirt, the charity of the customer’s choice and the designer of the T-shirt.

Holden maintains that their idea of selling T-shirts is more unique than just businesses selling their own T-shirts to promote their brand.

“We are not a screen-printing store,” Holden said. “Anyone can put a local business logo and name to sell a T-shirt. We seek to put a creative spin on it.

“It is more than just a logo,” he continued. “We go that extra mile to create something that is unique, fun and more fitting on a T-shirt.”

In November, ProjectAl’s website showcased eleven different business, mostly bars in the city. But Holden hopes to expand it to other independent local businesses.

“In the future we definitely seek to incorporate more businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, records stores, bike shops and others,” Holden said.

The idea to get the charities involved came from Holden’s mother, who has worked for nonprofits all her life.

They’re a diverse group, all Minnesota-based, and include Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, an organization that helps Minnesota families struggling with food, housing and childcare.

“We’re thrilled to be chosen as a featured charity for ProjectAl and to have the opportunity to work with an organization that supports local businesses, artists, neighborhoods and charities,” wrote LaDonna Hoy, the organization’s executive director, in an email. “We welcome the involvement of all groups and individuals in the work of [Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners], in whatever way they choose to contribute.

“We’re especially excited about being involved with ProjectAl because we believe it can help us reach a younger demographic — the next generation of volunteers and donors. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Holden and Hood see ProjectAl just as a way for them to have fun while doing their bit for the community.

“It is not for us to make money; we both have full-time jobs for that,” said Hood, who works as a freelance designer.

“When Charlie came up with the idea of ProjectAl, my advertising and design background make me want to be a part of this,” Hood added. “We love these business and all that they do for our community, so it is our way of giving back.”

Certain businesses the ProjectAl website features wish to donate up to 100-percent of their share to the charity. A message notifies the customers if they are shopping for a product that has this arrangement. Customers are still allowed to select a charity that suits them.

ProjectAl boasts of using only “Made in America” products.

“We get American Apparel material from California and the inventory occupies my basement,” explained Holden. ”We process all the orders, get them printed right here. Ours are American products, unlike other T-shirt companies that get made outside the U.S.”

The T-shirts that ProjectAl makes aren’t for sale outside the website, not even in the respective business they belong to, even though some have asked, Holden said.

“They are more focused on providing what they are supposed to: hospitality, food, liquor etcetera,” he explained. “Not everyone remembers to buy a T-shirt there. [ProjectAl] is convenience, design and charity.”

With their T-shirts, Holden and Hood want other people to build connections with their favorite spots, just like they did with Al’s Bar. The duo possesses the original Al’s Bar sign, which they retrieved from a dump.

“We like local businesses,” Holden said. “You won’t see us at a franchise, unless it is out of desperation at an airport. The business owners are people who live with us and support our community, so we should support them.”