THREE LITTLE WORDS Okoboji native's T-shirt message resonates around the globe
There's one drawback to a career in the "city that never sleeps."
When Monday morning rolls around, thousands of drowsy and crabby New Yorkers have to punch their timecards or report to their office cubicles.
Alyson Schacherer hated those workweek commutes. The edgy atmosphere on those subway rides didn't sit well with a 1997 Okoboji graduate who grew up a stone's throw away from the glacier-carved lakes of northwest Iowa.
"Growing up (in Okoboji) there is such a sense of community that you really do have each others back and they looking out for you in a way," she said. "Moving to New York, it's different, it's much more isolating. You don't really know the people, and in many ways, I was longing for that connection. Growing up in Okoboji, I never felt like anyone was a stranger, here everyone is."
The yoga instructor began a simple relaxation technique to get through her daily travels. She'd get past her crowded confines and unfamiliar encounters by imaging the words "I love you," across each commuter's chest.
The method of coping helped spawn a simple and successful enterprise in a city full of ideas: She began printing T-shirts with her three-word calming message. The "I Love You" project has blossomed into a apparel niche. Her shirts can be found in 16 different countries -- babies can wear them. Even pets can wear specially-designed "I Love You" outfits.
"What if we just knew that we all loved each other (I thought)," Schacherer said. "I was living in a dodgy neighborhood and I was just really bummed out and I thought it was a way to make it better."
Schacherer's six years of teaching yoga and working in a theatre didn't give her the skills she needed for a T-shirt production enterprise.
To get started, Schacherer traded yoga lessons with her downstairs neighbors for instructions on the printmaking process. She learned intricate steps t0 help keep costs low and she obtained the shirts from a specialty distributor.
"It was important to me that it be affordable," she said. "I had an idea to source the shirts from charity-driven thrift stores, because I love thrift shopping."
Schacherer wanted her "I Love You" project to have true meaning, so she doesn't keep profits from the T-shirt sales.
"I didn't start this to make money or for a job, it's still a hobby," she said. "So I thought, if the money is going to come in, let's give it to a charity."
She's even had people donate shirts to display the eye-catching, universal slogan.
"The first time I actually wore one of the shirts, I was a little shy," she said. "I felt people would notice more than they did. It's kind of surprising how much there is that we don't notice."
CALLING TO HER ROOTS
Schacherer used friends, family and the Facebook social networking site to promote the "I Love You" T-shirt concept. She also took her shirts the Hester Street Fair in the lower east side of Manhattan.
The shirts have been used to support Sandy Hook victims and to raise funds during a marathon.
"When it began, I knew I needed to get (I Love You) on as many people as possible," she said. "The shirts have the website printed on the bottom. I didn't really know much about websites, which is why I made a Facebook."
One of Schacherer's colleagues bought the shirts for her son and her friends. The teenagers might be putting a sarcastic spin on the T-shirt message, but Schacherer doesn't mind. She's just glad to see her shirts in the marketplace.
"It's been surprising to me that we are now in 16 countries," Schacherer said. "People in Canada really love it, but it's also surprising that some people are so not into it."
MAKING AN IMPACT
Schacherer gets calls and inquires from a wide range of charitable causes. A massage therapist wanted to sell "I Love You" shirts along with the sessions and half the proceeds went to cancer treatments. Another group set up a lounge area for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in which they could relax and buy the I Love You shirts. The project has expanded beyond Schacherer's wildest dreams.
"I hope this is just the beginning of what it will eventually become," she said. "Right now it still feels small."
Schacherer explains why she keeps such a time-consuming hobby going.
"The most enjoyable part for me is hearing about different people's experiences," Schacherer said. "I hope to have a map on the website with pins of where the shirts have been -- and people telling their story."
One of her friends stepped off a subway train in New York City while wearing an "I Love You shirt." A stranger walking by turned to her and said "I love you too." Stories like that tell Schacherer how much an impact her project has made.
"When I'm at craft fairs, some people will walk by and turn to their spouses and say 'I love you,'" she said. "Just to get to witness moments like that is so lovely."