Closets are for Clothes co-founders Ang Frank and Jessie Eskildsen. Photo courtesy of CAFC

Love Wears On

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Love loud and proud. That's the message Michigan-based clothing company Closets are for Clothes is sending with their custom T-shirt designs made to support the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.

"If our support can inspire even one person who has been struggling, if we can give them a voice, if we can open just one closed mind, it will all be worth it," said Ang Frank of Plymouth and co-founder of CAFC, about their designs that make a statement.

Frank and her business partner Jessie Eskildsen of Westland started screenprinting T-shirts three years ago in a Garden City basement then sold them out of their backpacks at various Pride festivals throughout the states.

"When we first started selling them, we sold about 20 shirts. During our next Pride we sold over 100. Our online sales increased and we were reaching a much larger audience than originally intended," said Eskildsen, adding that CAFC became "official" in May 2014. Since then, the company has sold T-shirts to people in 36 out of 50 states in the country. The goal is to cover the map. To accommodate this growth in sales and maintain the quality of their product, CAFC collaborates with custom printed apparel provider Underground Printing in Ann Arbor.

"We feel that Pride should be celebrated regularly. That's why each one of our shirts is designed to promote love and acceptance," said Frank. "Our everyday Pride apparel is our little way of keeping the parade going all year long."

The pair understands the importance of operating with honesty and integrity despite the way they have been treated. Both young entrepreneurs were fired from previous jobs based on their sexual orientation.

"We realized that if CAFC is going to ask for your bravery, then the very least we can do is be brave ourselves" said Frank, a student who also works as a nanny. "We promise to continue living out loud in hopes to encourage others to do the same."

That includes helping each other.

"The day after the election, Jessie was having a meltdown. She said she was going to go back in the closet, she was terrified of becoming a target," said Frank. "I had to talk some sense into her, reminding her to love out loud as you always have. People depend on you for your courage. Lead by example. Yeah, it's scary, but you can't go back in the closet. You're not going to find happiness there. No matter what, love who you love, do things for you. You can't let this change the way you live."

So she didn't. In fact, since Nov. 8, Eskildsen is feeling more secure, specifically at work as a graphic and web designer, where her coworkers have publicly showed their support.

"People who I work with have said, 'Hey, I have your back.' We do have allies out there where we least expect it," she said noting her responsibility to be a role model for the next generation. "The kids voting in our next election don't feel like they should have to hide so I can't hide. We are stronger together."

The T's

The idea behind their most popular T-shirt design, Love Outlaw, is simple - to love outside the law, to create a movement encouraging others to live and love out loud.

"There is so much shame that fills the hearts of those within the LGBTQ+ community. What we wanted to do, more than anything, was to erase it," said Frank. "Together we form an army of lovers, following our hearts instead of the path that society expects us to follow. We are Love Outlaws, and we're proud to be authentic."

The Olly Olly Oxen Free T-shirt is CAFC's battle cry to anyone that has ever been made to feel like who they are is something to hide. For those who have found themselves, and those who are still searching.

It seemed right to pay tribute to their roots so Frank and Eskildsen created the MI Love Is Equal T-shirt during the fight for marriage equality. "We have a special place in our hearts for the mitten," said Frank.

CAFC's everyday Pride apparel is gender neutral and is offered in a few different colors and styles, such as v-necks, crewnecks or tank tops.

Looking ahead, Eskildsen said they are discussing new T-shirt ideas to unveil in 2017 to include transgender and ally designs. Proceeds from the sale of T-shirts, which are $25 each, will help CAFC continue inspiring the LGBTQ+ community.

"We're not worried about money," said Eskildsen. "We're all about spreading love."

Coming Out of the Closet

In an effort to support the LGBTQ+ community, CAFC does more than just sell T-shirts. As noted on their website, CAFC "hopes to continue to serve as a light in the dark, to find your way out, and to be proud when you get there." Because coming out can be such a difficult process, CAFC teamed up with SC Visual Productions to create a two-part documentary on YouTube called From Here on Out. The video contains a collection of heartfelt coming out stories made possible with help from family members and several friends to include CAFC volunteers - creative contributor James Danger, social media manager Tiffani Edwards, office manager Jett Taylor and event coordinator Jackie Mack.

Frank said, "It was our hope, that by sharing these stories, it could inspire others to find courage to share their own."

For more information, visit CAFC's Facebook page or shop the CAFC closet. Use the online coupon code: BTL. Buy a shirt, post a picture on Instagram.
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