Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interview w/ Mike Fretto of Rosa Loves

Every Thursday in August, we've put something together about Hurricane Katrina as its 4th anniversary approaches on Aug. 29. First was a review of Zeitoun, then a review of A.D. New Orleans After The Deluge and then an interview with Leo McGovern, editor of Antigravity Magazine and a character in A.D. Today is an interview with Mike Fretto, creator and co-founder of the t-shirt company Rosa Loves. For more NOLA, read yesterday's review of the new album by the Generationals and check back for our Top 5 New Orleans T-shirts That Do Not Involve Brad Pitt.

Not only have the residents of New Orleans been profoundly affected by Hurricane Katrina, many others have volunteered their time and energy on short-term or long-term trips to help rebuild the city. Those people also came back changed. Mike Fretto's December 2005 trip to New Orleans inspired him to use his art and design skills to start Rosa Loves. Based in St. Augustine, FL, the concept behind Rosa Loves is simple: develop a t-shirt for a person or purpose, sell the shirt, give the money to that cause and then end the shirt's run when the goal is met.

Rosa Loves started in 2006 and their new line of shirts will be unveiled soon for projects like the fair-trade coffee company Grower's Alliance, the Kosovar refugee aid agency Balkan Sunflowers, and LEAP an international poverty relief NGO. There are also many other projects at Rosa Loves that haven't met their goal yet, such as this one.

Mike answered a few questions about the origins of Rosa Loves, their first project and how they design their shirts.

How did you start Rosa Loves? What was the inspiration behind it?

It was sort of inspired by a trip I took to New Orleans in December 2005 after Katrina. Back then, it was go and gut as many houses as you possibly can, which is all we were doing. I realized, “All we are doing is gutting people's houses, and it's making a huge difference for these families.”

It was like no big deal for us, we had 10 college students with crowbars. I had this idea of having a big impact, with such a small thing, with such a huge need, you're overwhelmed with the bigger need of the town. It was almost to the point that I was discouraged...we're helping this family, but there are so many other families that need help. Now that person (that we helped) can get ahead, now that person has more options.

That idea seemed so simple, and for some reason it took a little while for me to figure that out, that idea with doing such a small thing with the resources of the group. It wasn't a big deal for us, but it made a huge difference.

I just went home and it stayed me with a long time. I'm going to go back to work, and I'm designing logos, and I'm like this is lame. I was like how can I use my gifts? I'll use design to make t-shirts for specific things.

It's something small, but it's something that's going to make a bigger difference. A lot of people don't realize that we as middle class, or upper class, middle class, wherever we're at economically in our lives, there's always some way that we can help someone. I wanted people to be thinking in more tangible ways. I was just trying to encourage that.

Mike Fretto, co-founder of Rosa Loves

So what did you do next?

My friend Chris Lewis and I, we decided that we were going to do this. There were these guys in town (St. Augustine, FL) going around serving sandwiches to poor folks, and then they were serving sandwiches and had a Bible study. I went to check it out, and I met this woman named Glenda. Everyone was drawn to her, someone that was standing out from everyone else. She's disabled and has this walker all messed up...the wheels were all burned out. I don't know how she was using it, it was all jacked up.

I came to Chris and said “What if we help Glenda get a new walker?"

So you were going to make shirts for Glenda.

I sort of ran it by her, I told her about my idea, I told her we would like to represent her in a shirt. She didn't get it at first. And I came back with a little illustration and she was excited about it. Then when we brought her the walker, (Glenda) was freakin’ out, she was so excited, she's a really charismatic person, so it was cool. We knew she was going to be around, and we just surprised her. When that happened, I think that's when it really clicked in for totally works. We met the goal, and it's makes a huge difference for her, and people know how she got it.

How do you choose your projects?

A couple of them we just found out, the other ones we've just been connected to through direct relationships with friends. The type of person that we want to focus on are people in poverty, whether they be in the States or elsewhere. People that needed it, and in a real financial need. Everything that we've been connected to is through friends. Obviously, we just can't accept anybody that we don't know. We want to look into that person, that need, and make sure that need is legit.

We want to do more local stuff, we haven't been good at staying true to that. There are more international stories that come to us, than there are local. We need to make more of an effort to find local stories. Our goal is to have if not equal amount, if not local stories, but to ratio of the international stories.

Do you do all the designs for your shirts? What's the inspiration for them?

It's tough, I thought maybe we should make these designs totally unrelated to the story. At first, I thought we should just make a cool, abstract design that people would like. But these need to be unique, and there's more to the shirt, than just the design, but then it becomes a piece of art. With (Rosa Loves) it's like, I want to make it cool, and I want to tell the story and i want to make it meaningful. What's been cool, is that people have come to me, and they're somewhat connected to that story, and they've had graphic design experience andI felt like it was more appropriate for that person to design it rather than me. I've been able to stand back, and not design every shirt. Now all of our shirts look different, so now, there's been a pattern of cool shirts that look different.

Inside of the shirt, we print a brief insert of the story. To find out more about the story, people can go to the web address. The concept of having the story inside is really special, no one knows it’s there except the person wearing the shirt. You’re carrying around the responsibility to tell people about it, but it’s sort of symbolic, like if you help someone you’re carrying around that when when you leave. It’s a really cool concept that has really worked.

What about the name Rosa Loves?

We just wanted to give it a real name. We wanted it to have this open-endedness to it. You get this sense of this mother, or this caring figure. We wanted it to be a name, we didn't want it to sound like another charity, it's something that we're still kind of defining, we just sort of jumped into it.


  1. Amazing story. It's cool when caring meets capitalism (I was raised on the Care Bears). Also, people's love for vintage t-shirts doesn't hurt.

  2. very hopeful.
    makes people realize that making little difference, is much more than, not making any difference at all. that bigger things must start small.


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