At age seventeen, Brady Fernandes started a business with a purpose.
His idea, a t-shirt brand called Patriot Threads, emerged as part of a high school capstone project. But he wanted his business to have a philanthropic goal, so he chose a cause that’s important to him: supporting veterans.
Through his grandfather, Fernandes was already involved in local nonprofit organizations that serve veterans. “For the most part, my generation hasn’t experienced war, and caring for veterans isn’t usually on our minds,” Fernandes says. “I wanted to change that by starting a grassroots movement to support those who have served.”
Fernandes approached his father with the idea to start an apparel company that would donate 20 percent of sales to nonprofits. “My dad invested $2,000 to help start the business and gave me the role of CEO,” he says. “It was a unique opportunity to try out my business ideas in the real world.”
Meanwhile, Fernandes pursued a marketing degree with a collateral in entrepreneurship at the Haslam College of Business. “Being able to take things I was learning and apply them directly to Patriot Threads gave me a thorough understanding of business concepts,”
Fernandes says. “I’m a hands-on learner, and I was lucky to have that chance.” Patriot Threads has changed courses several times over the years. “We went from generic patriotic merchandise to more niche designs,” says Fernandes.
“Ultimately, the challenge was identifying our target market.” Today, the company sells regional apparel and designs tied to specific organizations. Patriot Threads has grossed more than $100,000 in total sales, donating $25,000 of it directly to veteran nonprofits. Recently, the company partnered with Project Healing WatersFly Fishing, an organization that provides physical and emotional rehabilitation to disabled veterans. “This partnership is good for both of us,” he says. “We’re happy to be plugged into a nonprofit that we really believe in.”
After graduating in December, Fernandes became a sales account executive at P&G in Charlotte, N.C. He hopes to continue working with Patriot Threads on the side.
Interacting with veterans and hearing the wisdom they have to share is the most satisfying element of Fernandes’s endeavor. “At one event, a World War II veteran thanked me very sincerely for what I’m doing,” he says. “It made me realize the impact of this is much bigger than the funds we’re donating. It’s about showing veterans that we care.”