The Karma Inc Apparel Story - How T-Shirts and A Belief Turned Me Into A Kidney Donor
Our T-Shirts, Our Brand and Our Message
A message from the owner:
Hello to our customers, friends, and followers. I’ve been thinking as we enter 2020 about the journey my life has been on since starting Karma Inc Apparel with my son Dave in 2009.
Karma Inc Apparel has given me over 10 years to reflect back to the day my son and I had the first glimmer of what type of T-Shirt brand we would create. Unsure where to go and how to start, we moved forward only knowing we wanted our clothing to represent Peace, Love, Giving, and Caring for others. We were going to be Karma Inc Apparel 'The Brand That Gives Back.' as we knew doing good things creates good in return.
Creating a clothing brand so focused on kindness sometimes meant not creating shirt designs that were as cool or catchy as the clothes that my son used to wear. The ones with salty sayings and graphics, that put people down and could be considered offensive. From the start it was my choice to try to be different in a positive way, hoping that at some point people would catch on to what we were doing, and Karma Inc Apparel was born!
We began our journey in 2009 with 6 basic designs and a self-built website. We set out to share our vision with the world. Early on when my son was still involved with Karma Inc Apparel I realized that I had many connections with people in the music industry; and being a bass player myself I began to ask my friends and performers to wear our clothing onstage.
Then something happened that would forever change Karma Inc Apparel.
The First Time I Realized This Could Work
Patty Smyth and her band Scandal were in town for the summer festival. They played an amazing show on a perfect evening. The temperature was in the mid 70's and the air was comfortable. As the crowd was cheering for an encore, to my delight, out walks Patty Smyth wearing a Karma Inc Apparel T-Shirt that we had made for her. Watching Scandal rock that stage and Patty rip that encore in our T-Shirt was a surreal moment and one that will stay with me forever.
While I sit and reflect on my 10 years, this was the moment that would forever change my outlook on the business. We had taken a picture of Patty up there on the stage and posted them to our social media sites and sales started coming in. We had done it! With the help of one like-minded performer and suddenly this thing that was real, Karma Inc Apparel was now a business!
Not long after that, I was asked to be on an internet TV show by my Facebook friend Brian Pastoria, not knowing that he and his brother - Grammy Winner Mark Pastoria - were Detroit rock legends with the bands D.C. Drive and Adrenaline. After appearing on several of their shows at Harmony Park studios with the late Bob Bauer, I was asked by Joann Purtan to do an interview on WXYZ TV in Detroit. We had our first real opportunity to talk about Karma Inc Apparel, and how our idea evolved into a business all about giving back.
I knew we had something special going, and I decided whatever we sold going forward, we would donate 10% of any profits made to help someone in some way. Little by little, we came up with new designs and found more people who felt like us. People who knew that it wasn't just clothing, it was an idea that would one day with a little help, become a movement.
By 2010, my son had gone on to a wonderful career, and I carried on in various forms with Karma Inc Apparel and its message. I began adding more products to complement the shirts we had been selling. It wasn't long until we had hoodies, tank tops, thermal, and long sleeve T-shirts ready to go. Things were moving nicely, but I felt I could still do more.
"It's a sad realization when you become aware that most of us fall into a routine of getting so wrapped up in the little things that we don't see the bigger picture. "
A Couple Years into Karma Inc Apparel - Brent's Story
One evening in late 2010; had the chance to meet Hugo Ferreira and the band Tantric, receiving alot of support that evening from then drummer Kevin Figueiredo, who wore the first version of our Bleeding Heart "Love” design. And I was introduced to someone who would soon change my life forever, and become a good friend of mine.
When I met Brent through the band that night; he needed a Kidney . Hugo had asked me if we could come up with a T-shirt design for the band that we could sell to raise money to help Brent get to his appointments. The amount of time and resources spent traveling back and forth to appointments and dialysis to be able to be on the list for a Kidney Transplant is astounding.
"Sadly, we were not able to raise nearly enough money with that design, not everything catches or has the cool factor that makes it desirable."
It's a sad realization when you become aware that most of us fall into a routine of getting so wrapped up in the little things that we don't see the bigger picture, or what someone else is going thru. Someone didn't go through a yellow light and made you late for work, and your day is ruined. I know there is no way to get my day back on track if I forgot to pick up my specific coffee creamer. It's the little things. You know, that distract us from our path or mission.
During that time, I saw up close what someone who needs a Kidney transplant goes through daily. Vacation? What's a vacation? You must make it to Dialysis 3 times a week. I also saw that in between dialysis, Brent fought complications from infections, problems with dialysis ports, and near total renal shutdown. My coffee creamer didn't seem as important anymore. Seeing this happening right in front of me made me realize that all the small things I complained about amounted to nothing. How many people battle this disease, and they wait and fight and wait and fight until it's their turn for their Kidney transplant- if it is ever their turn.
So, I pressed on with a plan to continue to help Brent,and to make Karma Inc Apparel a nationally known Clothing Brand. I had a vision of a local storefront to showcase my Brand, as well as work from local artists. I wanted to make sure we had a stage for local music acts to have a venue to play new music,and so my store would be something one of a kind. Giving back, and finding a way to help Brent get his transplant so he could live the life he deserved to.
"As soon as I had the opportunity, I had myself tested to see if I was a match for Brent, but it was not meant to be. Then Brent took another blow due to unforeseen medical issues and was held out of any programs at that time. I had wanted so badly to be able to help."
We secured the perfect location in Bay City, MI and once we opened the store, I started partnering with a different charity quarterly. Realizing how many organizations that are out there trying so hard to help people, we quickly vowed to help a different organization every month . We focused on issues that were important and relevant to the message Karma Inc Apparel was destined to spread and nothing has changed. Below I appear for the 1st time on TV!
"Currently, there are more than 98,000 people waiting for a transplant in the United States alone."
A Friend Opened My Eyes and Destiny Took Over From There
We were trying hard to get Brent into a transplant program that he was qualified for. We really wanted to get him into the Paired Donation program, also called chain donation. In this type of program, a kidney donor can donate to someone that they matched but not have met in their lives. In exchange, the person you are attempting to help receives a kidney from someone who matches them. Odds of receiving a kidney are greatly increased in a program like this. Currently, there are more than 98,000 people waiting for a transplant in the United States alone.
The suffering that I realized kidney transplant patients go through. Something that could be corrected simply by finding someone who matched that was willing and able, and yet, the goal seemed too far away
"Right in front of my eyes, there was a girl who wasn't even a teenager going through the same hell that Brent was going through."
Days before opening our store in Bay City, I was there making sure everything was perfect. I had a taste for a piece of gum as I have never wanted gum before. Our storefront was located close to just about everything, so I decided to walk to a convenience store for a pack of gum. As I was in line waiting to check out, I saw the face of a young girl in the newspaper. I had to take a double look, but it was my turn to check out, so I grabbed the paper too and walked back to the store.
With the newspaper securely in hand, I arrived back to Karma Inc Apparel and began reading the article and right in front of my eyes, there was a girl who wasn't even a teenager going through the same hell that Brent was going through. I continued to read the story and was particularly moved by how the young ladies mother had stood on a street corner with a pink sign, desperate to find a donor for her daughter. She was a mother who was willing to do anything for her child.
I don't know why I needed gum so badly that day, or why her face caught my attention... but I was meant to read that story. An overwhelming feeling of being in the right place at the right time came over me and even though I couldn't help Brent, maybe I could have an impact and save the life of someone who I didn’t even know. I picked up the phone and began making calls.
The first factor that needs to be considered when matching a donor to a recipient is blood type. I just knew I was going to be a match and after I found out that I was a candidate, I contacted the University of Michigan Transplant Center where she had already been admitted into their program. Within 2 weeks, I was being tested again for Jessica like I had been tested to see if I was a match for Brent. Then we waited.
The Holidays Rolled Around
"I couldn't tell if I was being given a chance to make up for past mistakes or a chance to say thank you for everything I had been given and received in my life."
The day before Thanksgiving in 2012, we were around the house preparing for the holiday when word came in. I was a perfect match. It's not possible to put into words what your mind does at that moment. Excitement because it's real, but a monstrous decision to make that nobody can make for you. I had to decide if I was going to give one of my organs, that help keep me alive to someone I had never met.
I couldn't tell if I was being given a chance to make up for past mistakes, or a chance to say thank you for everything I had been given and received in my life. I had been given great health, I had great friends and supporters, and I owned a clothing brand. I preach Kindness, Equality,and Inclusion with our clothing designs, and I was ready to let everyone know that it wasn't just a T-Shirt company, it was me along with a movement spreading Kindness.
I believed so strongly in what our clothing represented that after speaking with family and friends, I decided it was the right choice. I believed that I could and would live the same life only having 1 kidney instead of 2. The Doctors who I had been seeing let me know that being as healthy as I was, I could easily share part of my healthy life with someone else.
Christmas had just passed and after committing to going ahead, Jessica and I were introduced and rode together to our surgeries on January 11, 2013. We had a wonderful Christmas and now I was going to give this person a Happy New Year and a start on a new life. The surgeries both went wonderfully! One moment you are laying there, and the gas hits and it's lights out and just like that you wake up and are never the same. Jessica's life was never going to be the same either.
I was so eager to get back to work on Karma Inc Apparel that I pushed myself too soon and had to take a few weeks off and be on lite duty as anyone who donates a kidney is supposed to do anyway. Within 6 weeks after surgery, both Jessica and I were now 2 perfectly healthy individuals. It was amazing meeting her again because I could see the results of what a living organ donation does for someone and the brightness she had. When it comes to a living kidney donation vs. kidney from a cadaver, a living kidney donation usually will have a lifespan 3 times longer.
Ever since that life-changing moment, so many good things have come to me. I was reconnected with a good friend from many years past, and she became my wonderful wife. I became a grandfather to 2 of the most amazing grandchildren you could ever ask for. I had been blessed with a great career outside of Karma Inc Apparel that has allowed me to bring my ideas and designs to more people and make impactful donations to the charities we now support. We started donating 20% of all profits instead of 10%.
We began working with key partners like legendary rock guitarist Kenny Olson, well known Nashville artist Jason Erwin, and social media and design guru that also does work with Folk N Funky Jared Govitz. My little vision, now going on 11years old still lives to bring good vibes only and spread kindness to everyone. Karma T-Shirts and Karma Clothing have become our staple. We are known as the “Brand That Gives Back”. I am so proud to have held on to a vision, when nobody believed in us in the beginning and when no one else knew anything about Karma Inc Apparel and marched forward.
Back to Our Mission:
We sell clothing from manufacturers like Bella + Canvas, American Apparel, and other top names; while keeping competitive prices, and still make sure that we donate 20% of proceeds to charities that help people.
Our goal has never been to get rich, have fancy things and make YouTube videos about how we got where we are so we could sell ads. We only simply care about helping others and promoting kindness and support to those who choose to live their lives helping others as well.
By doing good things, good things keep coming back to all of us now involved in this worthy venture. We personally stand behind every sale and appreciate your help in our efforts to better our world, one shirt, one hat, one coffee mug at a time. Every purchase makes a difference in someone's life.
Thank you, friends and fans.
May peace and love follow you everywhere.
Create your own Good Karma by helping others.
Owner, Karma Inc Apparel