Project 615, a philanthropic clothing store, recently expanded to a new location in West Nashville, which is now allowing the business to broaden their outreach to the homeless population and to give their customers in West Nashville a more personalized touch.
As Project 615 co-founder Derek Evans explains it, the business employs men who are on the path to recovery from homelessness, addiction and mental illnesses to assist in the creation of the apparel that the business sells. The men are typically hired from Set Free, a homeless outreach organization in Nashville, and are taught T-shirt making and screen printing.
The inspiration for the business began in 2010 when Evans and Project 615 co-founder Matt Blinco traveled to Skid Row in Los Angeles for a mission trip.
“(Skid Row) is one of the nation’s largest homeless communities,” Evans said. “We spent about 10 days there, just talking with hundreds of people who were homeless or formerly homeless, and we decided that we wanted to do something about that in our own backyard in Nashville.”
During the mission trip, Evans and Blinco began working with Set Free ministries.
“They really do a lot of inner city outreach with the homeless,” Evans said. “They bring them off the streets and bring them back to a church that rehabilitates them spiritually, physically. We were able to visit these churches and halfway houses, and we were blown away by the work that they were doing.”
A year before they visited Skid Row, the co-founders had started a T-shirt company for fun, selling to other small businesses and friends. After the trip, however, Evans and Blinco decided to take the business in a different direction.
“We immediately come back from this trip and got connected to Set Free in East Nashville,” Evans said. “We began helping to fundraise for them through T-shirt sales. We began giving money back to Set Free, which was then helping people get off the street.”
In 2012, Project 615 began to print all of their shirts in-house and the co-founders decided to, once again, expand their outreach and support to the homeless in Nashville.
“Our vision was to not only write checks to help homeless outreach groups like Set Free, but we wanted to hire people,” Evans said. “There’s just something about giving somebody a sense of responsibility.”
According to Evans, Project 615 has been able to hire 49 people that are on the path to recovery from homelessness, addiction and mental illness. During the process of starting the business and hiring recovering Nashville residents, Project 615 has partnered with several nonprofit organizations that the business has exclusively fundraised for and supported.
“We have been able to give away $290,000 since 2010. That’s something that we are very proud of. We are a very mission-minded company,” Evans said.
It was in 2015 that Project 615 first opened their store in East Nashville. Before then, sales were online or through other retailers. With the new location in West Nashville, two years later, Project 615’s support of the nonprofits and homeless outreach groups has become larger and more inclusive.
The new location, which is located on 51st Avenue North, is also the new headquarters for the business, and it allows the people that Project 615 hires to work in the building. Originally, Project 615 employees worked in an old church next to Set Free ministries.
“We outgrew the space because there’s been more demand for our products and our T-shirts,” Evans said. “We have about triple the space (at the new location), which has allowed us to grow. Our mission is to continue to give people jobs and to give money away.”
The West Nashville location has enabled Project 615 to hire more people who are struggling with addiction and homelessness. Typically, the business can hire about two to three people at a time, but, with the new location, they have been able to take on about four to five new employees at a time.
Evans stated that the response to the new location from residents of West Nashville has been extremely positive.
“A lot of people are excited because they don’t have to strictly drive to East Nashville to grab a Project 615 T-shirt,” Evans said. “West Nashville is really booming, and a lot of people are moving over here. One hundred people are moving to Nashville every day, and it’s good to be stationed in two different parts of town.”
The grand opening of the new location, which occurred May 20, displayed the excitement garnered by the community.
“It was amazing,” Project 615 Brand Representative Kristen Pellegrino said. “We had a line out the door like an hour before we opened, 150 people waiting. So, it has been a blessing to have a new location with our office behind it and production.”
Evans stated that it is business as usual at the new location. However, the company is attempting to cater their apparel to the residents of West Nashville and provide the new store with its own personality.
“We are trying to come out with more items and more shirts for the West Nashville location specifically,” Evans said. “We want most stores to have their own personality and (customers) can come to this location or that location and get something that the other store doesn’t have.”