Kory Westerhold is a graphic designer, and accidental activist, who’s using his skills to help Haiti, one T-shirt at a time.
It’s just past 1 p.m. in Brooklyn and designer Kory Westerhold is getting anxious. His e-commerce site for Haiti relief, Thread & Water, was supposed to launch by now, but there are … shall we say … technical difficulties.
“Um, let’s make that 2 p.m. Sorry y’all,” he tweets, and disappears online to tinker with the infrastructure of the site. A community of friends and colleagues stand by, waiting for his signal and building excitement amongst one another via Twitter and online chat programs. “It’s going to melt your face off,” says one friend. She’s had a sneak preview of the site and can already vouch for its quality.
Everyone’s eager to see the custom T-shirts and prints Westerhold’s selling, designed by a who’s who of top creatives, hand-selected for this project. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised will go directly to help provide clean water in Haiti (most of the participating designers have kicked in cash to pay for the back-end costs, and Westerhold is making up the rest out of his own pocket).
In the wake of the disaster, water is crucial. Newly erected tent cities with makeshift latrines and food storage can turn into breeding grounds for cross-contamination from sewage to drinking water overnight. The threat of a cholera outbreak is very real in such a situation, potentially leading to more deaths than the 7.0 earthquake that leveled the already poverty-stricken country two weeks ago. Thread & Water donations will help reduce the spread of disease and prevent the devastating effects of starvation and dehydration by contributing funds to The Water Project, a charity that provides clean water and supplies to survivors … that is, if Westerhold can get the site running.
An hour later, he reappears on Twitter triumphantly declaring, “WE ARE LIVE!” Within minutes word is spread throughout the country as friends and friends-of-friends log onto ThreadnWater.com to donate $25 in return for a shirt.
“It’s just so much more than I imagined it would be,” he explained the night before the January 25th launch. Westerhold never set out to be an activist. Like most of us attempting to process the images of devastation daily streaming in from the media, the young designer just felt compelled to help. Enter project Thread & Water. “This really didn’t start off to be ‘something’ — I just wanted to sell some T-shirts and allow that to help me give more than I could have otherwise — and if it is ‘something’ now, it surely wasn’t me who came up with it … it just kind of happened.”
And happen it did. Within a week, Thread & Water quickly expanded to a community project, as numerous people from Westerhold’s close-knit web of friends raised their hands to get involved. Some contributed back-end skills to get the site off the ground, like publishing guru Kristen Ball and finance journalist Erick Bauman. Others offered designs for the Thread & Water T-shirts, including Ness Higson, Danny Jones, Phil Coffman, Aaron Grauer, Joshua Blankenship, and Steven Abraham.
“I just took inspiration from them,” Westerhold says, identifying the collaboration of his friends as the driving force behind the relief effort.
And while he’s certainly no saint, this isn’t the first time Westerhold has used his design skills to effect change. He rarely talks about it, but he’s the creator of the logo for To Write Love on Her Arms, the popular non-profit started by Jamie Tworkowski to help teens battling depression and suicide. Embodying the same community-driven quality of TWLOHA, Thread & Water may see similar success. But success isn’t Westerhold’s goal. Like most of us, the accidental activist is just trying to be faithful to the small opportunities before him and join his friends to help others.
Only four days after the launch, Thread & Water is doing well. Inspired by the site, a New York City school invited Westerhold to share with students various ways they can help with the relief and inspire the children to design their own shirts, which will be sold specially on Thread & Water’s site.
The momentum around Thread & Water is exciting, but Westerhold is keeping some perspective. “There are actually lots of fantastic designers responding to the tragedy in Haiti with their talents and checkbooks. In fact, a good friend of mine, Mike Fretto, who runs Rosa Loves in St Augustine, has already sold over 1,000 shirts for the relief effort! I’m just glad that our group had the heart to respond and is doing what they can to be a part of that.”
For more information about Thread & Water, and to purchase a T-shirt for a $25 donation that will help provide clean water for Haiti, visit http://threadnwater.com.