Fifteen years after finishing Girl Scouts, Cincinnati natives Brittany Yantos and Brittany Yoder are still earning merit badges.
Not only earning but designing and selling badges as well to commemorate adult accomplishments — their 2013 series includes badges for things such as coming out, buying a home, planting a garden, learning a foreign language and more — which, in turn, inspire others.
It’s all part of their American-made, eco-friendly clothing line, Merit Clothiers, available for purchase by fall 2013 on etsy.com. The line, designed in Cincinnati and manufactured in Chicago, includes a women’s military-style jacket (in purple, grey and light or dark green for $245) and a unisex messenger bag (in navy, yellow or brown for $145). Iron or sew any of Merit Clothiers’ 10 hand-stitched, wool felt merit badges onto the line’s items or use them as refrigerator magnets, ornaments, etc.
Yoder, who lives in Hyde Park, wears her “volunteer” badge to celebrate her work with a local cancer nonprofit. Yantos, in Chicago, wears her “animal rescue” badge to honor her adoption of an abandoned neighborhood cat.
“Rescuing an animal benefits the animal, owner and community,” Yantos says. “You wear the badge as an accomplishment, to start conversations and perhaps inspire others to do the same.”
Yantos conceptualized the line, inspired by World War I patches, after years of office work left her creatively bankrupt. She had dreamt of a life of art, performing plays as a Mason High School student and painting and sculpting as a fine arts major at the University of Dayton. When Yantos relocated for a fundraising job at the University of Chicago, she contemplated creating a clothing line to celebrate and encourage good deeds.
“I’m not the kind of person who wants to live her life in a cubicle,” she says. “I want to do something artistically inspired.”
Positive feedback on clothing sketches from family and friends motivated Yantos to solidify the business and seek a partner. She turned to her former roommate from the University of Dayton, Yoder, who, as a certified public accountant with an MBA and passion for philanthropy, supplies Merit Clothiers with business strategies and additional design advice.
The friends, who met at their alma mater’s 2006 student fundraising campaign, used their pledge drive experience to establish Merit Clothiers’ Kickstarter campaign in March to fund 50 percent of production. Kickstarter allows ordinary people to back creative projects through its website (kickstarter.com), often in exchange for project merchandise. Merit Clothiers is one of 135 successful Cincinnati campaigns since the site started in 2009.
The company reached its $5,000 goal two days shy of their 30-day limit. If Kickstarter goals are not met within project-determined durations (up to 60 days), no funds are dispersed.
To ensure success, the partners researched similar Kickstarter campaigns for fashion projects to determine donation levels and pledge goals. They mimicked the winning model of establishing product photos, a project video and a realistic goal. They also backed up to 10 Kickstarter projects globally to expand their network and help generate what Yoder calculates to be about 20 percent unknown backers (with the remaining donors being family and friends).
That support from family and friends (and strangers) is why the pair often refers to Merit Clothiers as a “community effort.”
And they pay it forward. Fueled by the April factory collapse on garment workers in Bangladesh, Merit Clothiers prioritizes using organic materials and American employees in the company’s Chicago factory. And Yantos visits the factory frequently.
“We have a core set of values behind what we do,” she says. “We’re not just making clothes to make clothes; we’re making clothes that have a history and story behind them, that promote being good to each other.”
Yantos hopes that customers who share similar values will relate to their women-run, bi-local business, which they plan to market to Cincinnati and Chicago boutiques throughout the year. And the urban renewal of Over-the-Rhine inspires Yantos to imagine Merit Clothiers’ own Cincinnati storefront within five years, if sales prosper, turning this side project into a fulltime career.
Merit Clothiers hopes to release 10 new badges annually, including one for vegetarianism and for running a marathon, as well as produce additional items, like a backpack and full-length pea coat.
Next, Yantos plans to earn the “travel abroad” badge by visiting Japan or Western Europe. Like all badge sales, no proof of merit is necessary.
“I’m not the badge police,” Yantos says. “We run on the honor system.”
For more information on MERIT CLOTHIERS, visit etsy.com/shop/meritclothiers.