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INTERVIEW: VoteWear Co-Founder Melissa Berman On The Clothing Line With A Timely Mission

Nicole Barylski

VoteWear Fervent Wish - Women's Wideneck Sweatshirt, Sign Hoodie, Vote Love Dog Bandana, and She Votes - Women's Premium Organic T-Shirt. (Courtesy Photo)

"The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties," Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, once stated. Yet, so many across the nation chose not to exercise their right to vote.

Melissa Berman, who Co-Founded East End Cares, is hoping to encourage voting, as well as support voting rights organizations through her latest endeavor, VoteWear.

We chatted with Berman about the clothing line with a very timely mission, an East End Cares update, and more.

Could you discuss the genesis of VoteWear?

MB: I did a voter registration event out here during the midterms. I work with a friend of mine from LA, who's a designer; we worked together as a creative team in advertising for years. So, I have this line, Your Vote is Your Voice, and we did a logo and registered all these people and then other people used it. This pin company licensed it from us, they make those enamel pins. They licensed one of our designs and they started selling. So, I said to Karen, "Maybe we should do a bunch of stuff - like sweatshirts and t-shirts and hats." That was it. We had other designs. In the meantime, Karen had started this Instagram page called Design Your Vote. She was doing designs and people were sharing designs. We decided to put this stuff up and then use it as a way to donate part of the proceeds to voting rights organizations and support them that way. I had to very quickly learn how to build a Shopify. So, we built the site, and then started to partner with different organizations. Shortly after we launched, RBG passed away, sadly. So, we came up with that design. Then we decided to do She Votes and formed a partnership with EMILY'S List. It's been cool. People really love the gear, it inspires other people to vote and gets the message out in a lot of different ways.

Obviously, voting is important in every election, but could you speak as to why you wanted to create VoteWear for this particular one?

MB: This election is probably the most important election in our lifetimes. Our country is very divided and heading in a direction that I guess some people are okay with it, but many people are not. I think that what we learned from the last election was that only 47 percent of people who are eligible to vote voted in the last election, and that's not any way to run a democracy. Really, the best way you can participate in a democracy is by extending your right to vote. It's super, super important.

Is VoteWear available anywhere locally?

MB: No, it's only online. But we do ship really fast. Usually orders go out within 24 to 48 hours, and we have lots of different designs.

I also think that what we've seen in the last couple of years is a real energy around becoming politically involved and long standing issues have been brought to the forefront that we're addressing now. Getting out in the streets is great, and doing all the things that people are doing is great, but really the way you're most effective is by showing up and voting. I think by wearing the gear with the fun design, you're creating kind of an excitement about it. Creativity is always a way to inspire action.

What designs does VoteWear offer?

MB: We have our RBG Fervent Wish design, which I'm actually wearing right now. For that, we used her collar, and the word vote, all of our stuff, it all says vote. It's a simple message, but different creative ways to say it. So, RBG's fervent wish was that her replacement would not be installed until after the election, and since she was such an American treasure, we wanted to honor her with a collection.

We also have one that the o in vote is the red heart. We call it Vote Love and that's an homage to Milton Glaser's famous I heart New York, which is great for this area, and actually, everybody loves that, because it's just really fun.

We have a few that say "Your Vote is Your Voice." It's a very graphic representation of a person's face and the words come kind of out of the mouth. We did that in a black and white, so we're nodding to equality. We did a new one called She Votes, where we're partnering with EMILY'S List to support their work of getting female candidates elected and we use the female symbol as the o and t in the design.

Then we have one that looks like a cartoon bam, all the stars are coming out of it. It says vote. People like that for kids and we have it on dog scarves.

We also have one for the sign language symbols for the word vote, which we call Sign, which people like and then we have one that's a giant eye. That one seems to be popular with younger people. It's just a giant eye and then it says vote, like eye vote, you vote, we all vote.

They come in different colors, different styles, sweatshirts, we have some embroidered hats, which are really fun, trucker hats, dog bandanas, and long sleeve t-shirts. It's been a really fun project.

Is this something that you plan on continuing beyond 2020?

MB: Yeah, we're gonna see what happens. We really liked the model of being able to create something that inspires people, people love, but then also partner with different organizations and support causes. So, we like that model and we'll see what we can do, depending on how things roll out, what's needed, but we definitely can use positive messages nowadays. So, I think there's gonna be plenty of room for messages, whether it's voting or kindness or love or community, whatever it is. Right now, we're doing a push to really get people talking about voting, helping each other vote.

Speaking of inspiring, what's the latest with East End Cares?

MB: We could use more volunteers. We're still doing our buddy program and shopping for people and helping people and it's a really good service and people still need it, obviously, we still are dealing with the virus. So, we need to have volunteers as sometimes people can't continue on, we need to replace them or we get more people that need help. So, that's going really well.

Our fund for food continues, if anyone wants to donate to that. We raised a lot of money for the food pantries. I think we raised over $140,000 so far.

Wow! That's amazing.

MB: Yeah, people were just great. Citarella really helped a lot. People just gave when they could and food pantries are still super busy. Now we're working on a project, we're doing some stuff at The Retreat, which is really meaningful and great. We're helping them with some upgrades of the actual shelter because it needed it, and now The Retreat's services are in even more high demand, unfortunately. So, East End Cares and the Clamshell Foundation are working together to do some upgrades at the shelter and make it memorable.

We're trying to get some supplies to Maureen's Haven, because the winter is coming and now with homeless people, it's different with COVID. It's pretty hard to have a lot of people sleeping in one place together. It's just a challenge upon a challenge.

That's what we're doing right now. The Retreat project is pretty amazing. They do such amazing work. I mean, these women and children show up and they just have the clothes on their back. Can you imagine?

I actually just got an email from The Retreat about the Adopt-A-Family holiday program.

MB: They do such amazing work and the place really needed help. They have these old refrigerators and are feeding 18 people three meals a day. A lot of things needed to be upgraded and we were able to do it, we had received a grant, so it's great. To come out of such a horrible situation and to walk into someplace that will actually feel nice and comforting and like a home, it's going to go a long way for those women and kids. We're hoping to do a handicap bathroom for them, which there's no handicap bathroom in any domestic violence shelter on all of Long Island, and there are handicap women who need to go to the shelters, they need help. So, that's something we're working on doing.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

MB: We're shipping fast, so if people want to order, order up.

For more information, visit votewear.net.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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