As we prepare for the winter months ahead, there is no better time than now to highlight the life-changing work happening at Keepsake T-Shirt Quilts & Blankets. Besides making great products, Keepsake has made it its mission to create a space for the deaf community to be employed and empowered. The Keepsake team has hand-crafted more than 10,000 custom t-shirt blankets and quilts, employing over 100 individuals throughout the years. Coming off their recent win of the Social Enterprise of the Year Award presented at Aspire 2022, SocialVentures had the opportunity to talk with Founder Meredith Crane and Office Manager Shonna Collins. We discussed the company’s origin, its journey as a social enterprise, and plans for the future.
Thaddeus Jones (TJ): How did Keepsake come to be? What sets your brand apart?
Meredith Crane (MC): Both my children were born deaf. I grew up in a small town, so this was my first exposure to deaf people. I was in a for-profit business with my sister for 17 years, and after having a mid-life crisis, I decided to switch gears. I set up a nonprofit called Deaf Initiatives, whose primary focus at that time was to develop initiatives that served the deaf and hard-of-hearing. I was collaborating with the rehabilitation services commission on workshops. We did all this to raise the bar for these kids. All along, in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to have a business that just employed deaf people. Around that time, my children were starting to enter the workforce, and we saw firsthand that people could be very cruel to people with disabilities. I would go to interviews with my kids, and jobs would see me as the interpreter as opposed to their mother, and you can’t imagine the things that were said to them. I was more convinced than ever that I wanted to develop this business. Sometime later, I was standing on the sidelines of a soccer game when I heard a mother say, “I’ve just heard of the best idea where you take people’s collections of t-shirts and turn them into quilts.” Instantly, I knew this was it. I solicited family and friends to help develop a business plan. With the help of marvelous people – our deaf and hard-of-hearing employees, we have built this significant little business.
(TJ): That’s an incredible story. How has the social enterprise landscape changed from when you started 23 years ago to now?
(MC): For me, it wasn’t until five years ago that the idea of social enterprises started to gain traction. When we first started, I had to go to California for a social enterprise workshop just to get information and resources. Back then, if you said social enterprise, people would go, “What’s that?” or “What does that mean?” As opposed to now, the community is so connected and active. There is a social enterprise for every cause or service. We do our best to adapt to newer technology and stay competitive, but at the end of the day, people love to help other people. We are delighted to know that customers will come to support our mission.
(TJ): Shonna, can you share more about an employee’s experiences at Keepsake?
Shonna Collins (SC): I used to work retail, and I would be the only deaf person there. I always felt that I was the last person to know what was going on. I was sort of left out. I could never have imagined where I am today. When I first started working here, I saw a big difference compared to my previous jobs. When I was working in retail stores, there were so many communication barriers. When I got here, those were eliminated entirely. Everyone here was deaf, just like me. Everyone uses sign language as their primary language, and we can share ideas and have conversations even on our lunch break. Even in the beginning, it never felt like these people are just coworkers; they have become my family. I really do love working here.
(TJ): For your life-changing level of impact and demonstrable model of success that has provided individuals with stable, inclusive employment opportunities for more than 20 years, you were recognized as The Social Enterprise of the Year at Aspire. What was that experience like?
(SC): I was surprised, honestly. I thought for sure another nonprofit had it in the bag because it sounded like everyone nominated has done so much incredible work as well. We were thrilled to be recognized by our community of social entrepreneurs, which made that award a very high honor.
(MC): Surprised is an understatement. It was a beautiful moment.
(TJ): Can you tell us about any upcoming projects happening at Keepsake?
(MC): We’re still in the development stages for this program called Club Keepsake. Our business with repeat customers is going great. We want to find a way to thank them and create an even stronger relationship with them. In addition to Club Keepsake, we have Keepsake heroes, which will roll out at the beginning of next year. With this program, we will work with gold star families and donate a lap-size blanket to a first responder or a military person who has passed away in action.
(TJ): Thank you both for sharing Keepsake’s story. The impact you all have created over the past 20 years is immeasurable. Our community celebrates you and your continued success.
Order your custom quilt or learn more by visiting tshirtquilts.com today.
Founded in 2014, SocialVentures is a non-profit organization that believes in people, purpose and prosperity. They develop, advocate for and help fund businesses advancing solutions to social problems in our community. Send an email to [email protected] to connect and visit socialventurescbus.com for more information.
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