WASHINGTON — For most of his life, Maryland native Matthew Reese had a strong interest in design. After years spent at a nine-to-five job, he finally left to pursue his passion.
Today, he owns Blk Ankr in Annapolis, a t-shirt printing business where he can crank out anywhere from 12 to 3,000 t-shirts per order. Then, he sends the shirts to local businesses and communities near and far to help them achieve a look they’re proud of.
“What I'm doing is more than just a t-shirt,” Reese said. “This is a way that a business brands themselves and builds a business, which is then revenue for that business, which is then feeding and paying all these employees that rely on this work.”
It was all business as usual at Blk Ankr until the pandemic hit.
Orders from his regular customers like schools and offices came to a halt as everything moved virtually. Reese pulled in his daughter and son for help and even a part-time intern, but things were still far from normal for his own business and for his customers.
"These people that are my customers, a lot of them my friends, and one by one I was seeing and hearing that they're having to close their doors and they're losing all opportunity to make revenue," Reese said.
As Blk Ankr’s only full-time employee, Reese searched for a new alternative to help out his own business and support the locals he grew to love. Finally, in a community Facebook group, he found one. He called a few businesses and pitched the idea: he’d create shirts for them and give them half of all profits.
“We’ll print the shirts, we'll do all the labor, we'll do all the shipping, we'll manage the orders, we'll do everything,” he called a few businesses and told them. “All you have to do is agree to it. Tell us what you want your shirt to look like. And then promote it to your customers.”
The campaign was called “Stronger Together” and in the end, more than 3,300 orders were placed for a shirt representing local businesses and some others across the country.
“We got orders from Germany, from Canada, from somebody in Colombia," Reese said. "A lot of these people were Annapolis residents who moved on, and they still had that pride and interest and community feeling of being part of Annapolis, and they wanted to support from wherever it was that they were."
The Stronger Together shirts officially sold out as restaurants began to reopen and today Black Anchor is back in business printing for the community.
“It's a very heartwarming thing to see happen," he said. "I just hope that it continues as things kind of get back to normal, that sense of community and togetherness will continue.”