We highlighted Victor’s Wear launch and our partnership with the company last Autism Awareness Month. We thought we’d catch up with the founders Tiffany Hamilton and her son and Special Olympian, Isaiah Hamilton, to learn more about the great things they’ve achieved since next year and their plans for the future.
Victor Wear Co-founders, Isaiah and Tiffany Hamilton
What have you accomplished in your first year of business?
Tiffany: I think we’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve sold nearly 200 products and generated thousands in sales. And Isaiah and I collaborated on slogans and product designs to create nearly 20 different SKUs of tees hoodies.
As a start-up, we are a ways from being able to afford full-time staff. But we are proud to have employed two autistic event assistants that helped to tell our story and sell our products at several events. We also hired an autistic brand ambassador, Aidyn, who’s an amazing violinist and helps us spread the word about Victor Wear and show the world the amazing things that autistic people can do. And we’ve hired an intern, Seth, who is also differently abled. Seth has been working with us since the fall, and he’s done incredible work for us, like creating media lists and researching organizations and influencers that we can partner with. And he’s so funny and driven to do his best work. He’ll literally text me asking for more work to do.
I feel proud and honored that we had these opportunities to bring our mission to life and help young autistics gain valuable work experience that they can use to explore career options and build their resumes.
We were recognized for our efforts, too! We were on the morning news one morning and we were referred to the DC Chamber of Commerce and encouraged to fill out the application for Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Isaiah and I were amazed to find out that we actually won. And we got to participate in an award ceremony and luncheon last May with business and government luminaries, including Muriel Bowser! They gave us a standing ovation and Isaiah and I gave a speech. I couldn’t stop crying. It was such an incredible honor. It felt surreal.
Isaiah: I couldn’t believe I met the mayor, and all those people stood up for me. It was a very special day.
Victor Wear Isaiah Hamilton, in blue, with his friend Daniel Nelom and Mayor Muriel Bowser
Tiffany: We never realized how much our story would resonate, because for us, it was just our lives. But the one thing our experiences have taught us is that everyone seems to know and love someone with autism. And parents can universally relate to a desire to ensure your child’s success.
Our story gained national media attention, across several media outlets including WJLA-ABC, FOX 5 DC, WTOP, FOX 19 Cincinnati, Washington Business Journal, Inc. Magazine, Bloomberg News and more.and that attention led to an opportunity for us to participate in a Celebrity Gifting Suite for Emmy’s Week. That was also a surreal experience.
Tiffany: Isaiah was so poised sharing our story and mission with all the celebrities. I was just in awe as I watched him schmooze the celebs in his charming way. I thought of this kid that tens years ago, I was literally teaching him how to communicate and play with other kids. I felt so proud!
Watch Isaiah’s highlights from the Emmy’s Week Celebrity Gifting Suite
In January, we were accepted into ECNV’s Disability Justice Mindful Design Lab, which was an incredible honor. It’s an 8-month incubator for social change solutions. Through this work, we are receiving mentoring and business planning guidance to flesh out our venture plan to support employees with disabilities via special accommodations, support and partnerships and to reduce overall vulnerability in the autism community.
Isaiah: ECNV is helping us think of more than just shirts. We are figuring out other ways to empower and employ the autism community. Right now, I am working on a video game to help create awareness about the experience of differently abled people in the workforce. It's very exciting that I can use my love for video games and coding skills to help other autistic people.
What challenges have you faced so far and why have you kicked off a crowdfunding campaign?
Tiffany: We’ve gotten off to a strong start, but funding has been a major challenge. I funded the business with business loans initially, but we used the loans and profits from the business for inventory to sell at events,our website, PR, and business/legal fees.
We’ve applied to so many grants but we just haven’t been able to get funding. It’s really competitive. We know we’re doing something great, so we’re not giving up. I always tell Isaiah, ‘Victors don’t quit,’ and we won’t! But we’re in a bit of a catch 22, which is why we’ve decided to launch a new crowdfunding campaign that will award gifts in exchange for donations to our business. Funds raised from the campaign will help us expand our outreach and move away from a dropshipping model, which will help to drive business growth. We aim to raise $20,000 for inventory that we will sell at three community-outreach events, and for marketing and advertising to increase awareness of our brand.
We are planning to treat the 1-year anniversary of our company, this Autism Awareness Month as a rebirth and somewhat of a relaunch, taking our learnings and successes, and building from there to reach the next level.
What do you see as the path to your success?
Tiffany: Picture a brand as popular and beloved as Nike, but built on the idea of overcoming obstacles, and run primarily by differently abled people. That’s what we are trying to achieve with Victor Wear. We want to change the narrative around disabilities by showing the world the extraordinary things that people with disabilities can accomplish. Our goal is to shift the paradigm by becoming a popular brand that people can identify with and embrace.
While people with disabilities make up 25% of the US population, 100% of humanity is or has faced challenges that they’ve had to or want to rise above. Regardless of ability, Victor Wear is for everyone who wants to be triumphant and victorious. It’s warrior wear for Victors who Rise Above their personal challenges. Because it’s not about how hard you fall. It’s about whether or how you get back up. That’s what being a Victor is all about.
We envision three potential paths to Victor Wear’s success 1) owning their supply, manufacturing operations with staffing by people with differing abilities, similar to a company like John’s Crazy Socks 2) opening a brick and mortar store, with a national e-commerce presence 3) starting a franchise of stores, run by people with disabilities, with locations nationwide , like, Bitty & Beau’s. All of these paths to success depend on funding for inventory, marketing, outreach and general operating expenses. The crowdfunding campaign aims to raise $20,000 to cover such costs.
What makes you most proud?
Tiffany: The biggest thing I am proud of is the change it has made in my son's life. He is so proud of our business and is our most passionate brand ambassador. His word-of-mouth marketing has helped us gain numerous customers. His confidence has skyrocketed. He is connecting the dots and understanding what work means while embracing his uniqueness and feeling empowered. I know that we can have that same impact on many other autistic individuals - and in the process, I believe we can create a more inclusive world.
Isaiah: We want Victor Wear to be an inspiration for other businesses. We want to show that people with different abilities and autism are capable and deserve a world where there is no discrimination.The more employers will see and know people with disabilities are more than what they think they are – they will believe in the capacities of differently abled people. I am proud to be a part of that. It makes me feel victorious!
How can we support the crowdfunding campaign?
Tiffany: Go to our crowdfunding page and make a pledge. It’s fast and easy. Depending on the amount of your pledge, you can get everything from website and social recognition, to tees, hoodies and even a virtual meeting with us.
Also, please spread the word about our campaign. Tell your friends and family about us and share our crowdfunding page on social.
We are so incredibly grateful for support.