Honoring the South While Giving Back to Southerners
I am a geographically displaced Southerner. My birth certificate and current address might say New England, but my true hometown – the first and only place that ever felt like home – is Bluffton, South Carolina.
There are millions more like me. There are online support groups for Southerners who are (unfortunately) no longer located in the South, and there are hundreds of different t-shirt designs out there that attempt to capture Southern pride, but end up looking like a stale Jeff Foxworthy joke.
That’s what makes Y’allsome – a line of clothing including graphic tees and such made by (and for) Southerners – stand out. When I directed my fellow expatriates to the Y’allsome website, their initial reaction was much like mine.
“Ahh, that’s adorable,” said one friend. “A baby in a onesie with a boiled peanut on it. Awesome. Y’allsome. Nice word play.”
When you take a look around the site, you quickly realize that founders Craig and Megan Evans not only manage to truly represent Southern culture with a classy edge, but they’re doing it with a charitable touch.
“We found everything out there to be either country boy or country club. We wanted to create a Southern brand more representative of us,” Craig said. “And we knew if we started this, we wanted to find a way to give back at the same time.”
The Evanses know what it’s like to be yearning for a taste of home. The vision for Y’allsome began in a garage in Los Angeles three years ago. Craig, a Charlotte native, works in the advertising world and has helped create iconic commercials for big-name brands such as ESPN and Major League Baseball. Megan, a Charlestonian, is a wardrobe stylist by trade, inspiring celebrities and soccer moms alike to find their inner supermodel.
Their work had them shuttling between New York and Los Angeles, feeling more and more disconnected from their Southern roots.
“I don’t know if we would have ever started this if we hadn’t left the South,” Craig said. “After you step out of it, you see all the things that make it unique – the customs and traditions. So Megan and I decided to combine our talents and reconnect with our heritage.”
What began as a cathartic creative exercise quickly blossomed into a viable business model as the Evanses realized there were many more Southern expats living coastal-elite lives but thirsting for a legitimate glass of sweet tea.
“I heard from them the same thing that I was feeling. I grew up embarrassed of the South. It represented so much backward thinking and a checkered, very ugly past. The Confederate flag represents racism to so many,” Evans said. “There’s a reconciliation that we all go through, and in the end, many of us didn’t have a way to show that Southern pride.”
Evans knows there are plenty of stereotypes out there for typical Southern attire, bow-tie t-shirts and weathered jean jackets adorned in NASCAR patches, just to name a couple. But the goal of the Y’allsome aesthetic was to evoke a memory, to take people back to all that is wonderful about the South.
“We’re trying to be a very tiny example of what I feel is a loving, caring, giving-back South,” he said. “There’s a next generation here, a new South in places like Charleston and Nashville, that is really eager to show that their upbringing is a source of honor and cherished memories.”
Even in today’s tech-heavy world, getting the word out about Y’allsome proved challenging at first with the Evanses based on the west coast. So the couple connected with a Charleston-based public relations firm that represents high-end clients based in the South, and it was through this connection that Y’allsome came to Palmetto Bluff’s Music To Your Mouth. The company participated in the Artisan Market at Music To Your Mouth, and it sold dozens of its unique t-shirts, hats and prints. The same result followed soon after its participation in the Charleston Food and Wine Festival, and a small, but growing, fan base was born.
Written by Tim Wood
Photos courtesy of Y’allsome
The company’s motto “Southern Goods That Do Good” has resonated with its audience. But those words aren’t just a slogan, they are the very essence of what drives the Evanses to grow their business.
“We want to celebrate the South and give back to it, plain and simple,” Craig said. “We want Y’allsome to stand for much more than a throw-away hat, t-shirt or print. When people display it, it’s a badge that says, ‘I support the South way beyond this t-shirt.’”
That philosophy is clear with each click on the Y’allsome site. You see that the products are not just produced in the U.S., they are produced in cooperation with Southern businesses. When you buy a t-shirt, you see that North Carolina cotton farmer Ronnie Burleson has provided the cotton and that Nashville printer Andy Bird has printed your t-shirt using only environmentally friendly inks. When you buy a hat, you’ll read the story of Monroe, Georgia, embroiderer Ginny Givens who has stitched your custom-made chapeau.
In addition, 15 percent of all company profits are earmarked for helping Southern foster kids.
There are more than 100,000 foster kids in the Southern U.S. alone, and it is a plight that the Evanses are passionate about. While in grad school, Craig began working with Atlanta-based Adoption Discovery, an agency that educates families who want to adopt foster kids.
“There are 10,000 foster kids in Atlanta alone,” Craig said. “We’re talking about wonderful kids who are often mislabeled as troubled youth when in reality, these kids just got a raw deal and are amazing human beings who deserve love.”
Y’allsome also donates to Heart Gallery, an organization that travels the region to take pictures and video of prospective foster kids, putting names and stories to kids who are so often just labeled with case numbers.
The Evanses have donated more than $10,000 to these two agencies to date.
“We’ve been so blessed to find two great partners, but we want to do so much more,” Craig said. “We live the business right now, traveling to trade shows and getting the product into as many hands as possible. So cutting checks is where we are in terms of giving back, but we want to be so much more.”
The couple has also launched the Duffle Donation program to give foster kids more than just a plastic bag in which to transport their possessions as they are moved from place to place.
“Each year, foster kids are moved from home to home with their belongings in a trash bag. It is absolutely degrading and does so much damage to their self-worth,” Evans said. “We ask for $20, the cost of the bag and shipping. That delivers to one child a durable duffle bag with a luggage tag where they can write their name and email address and at least move with dignity.”
The donations and the duffle bag project are just the beginning of what the Evanses hope the Y’allsome brand will become.
“We want Y’allsome to be synonymous with charitable acts, so that you know every time you’re associating yourself with the brand, you’re giving back to the South,” Craig said. “That’s when it really starts to have legs. We’ve begun with t-shirts, hats and prints, but we want to evolve to a whole line of artisan and quality goods with a purpose behind every purchase.”
More than a year ago, the couple moved back east and stationed themselves in Nashville, where they can be closer to their target audience and the trade shows that attract so many store owners who buy products for their shelves.
“We see it firsthand in Nashville, especially, this idea of the new South,” Evans said. “They are part of a new breed of Southerner who respects traditions while at the same time is forward-thinking and seeks to create their own way of doing things. The result is something familiar yet entirely new. You see it all over the place now with Southern entrepreneurs springing up in all lines of work, from restaurants to designers to fashion. It’s almost like the South, reinterpreted.
“There are 50 Southern brands out there, but we’re unique in that we strive to give back to the very thing we celebrate,” he said. “People connect with our personal view. Sometimes it’s creating something entirely new like a bourbon cannon, or simply presenting something familiar like the Tennessee flag in a new way, which I do with the banjo design.”
That personal view of the South is taking hold. To date, Y’allsome products are sold in more than 70 stores, with measured expansion ahead for 2017.
“I’m still working in advertising; Megan’s still going full-time as a stylist, but we’re hitting a tipping point,” Evans said. “We know we’re gaining traction, and we know this is evolving quickly into more than something we can do into the wee hours of the night after our day jobs. The jury’s still out regarding how far we can take this mission, but we’re sure having fun making a difference and seeing how much we can make this brand grow.”