By Rebecca Susmarski The Register-Mail, Galesburg, Ill.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) For Sherrell Wallace, her budding T-shirt business is about much more than selling a product. Her designs which relate to Christianity -- including a humorous shirt that reads, "More Jesus, Less Drama" are meant to encourage wearers to have a conversation about their faith.
A series of fortunate circumstances helped Galesburg resident Sherrell Wallace start her T-shirt business.
Wallace, 42, had always been interested in owning her own clothing business, but it wasn't until May 2011 when she watched a televised sermon by Rev. Jentezen Franklin that she came up with the idea for Living Inside Out Tees.
In that moment, she conceived the flagship design for her T-shirts and the business' main concept: to sell shirts inside out, so that when people notice the shirts, wearers can take the opportunity to have a conversation about their faith with the person.
"This pastor was talking about how Christians need to come out of the closet and share their faith, and he said that Christians need to 'live inside out' -- they need to share what God's doing in their life," Wallace said. "I felt guilty because I had been going to church for a year, but I wasn't sharing my faith. So much had happened to me and I just wasn't telling people about it."
There was one problem, however. Outside firms that could make the shirts charged a considerable amount to print the design, and it would cost thousands for Wallace to buy the equipment she needed to make the shirts herself.
That was when a woman at KCCDD spontaneously told Wallace that KCCDD's print shop had closed and needed to sell its equipment.
Wallace works at the Gordon Behrents Senior Center, a facility of KCCDD, and she wrote the print shop's manager to see how much the equipment would cost. The manager sold the items to her for just under $200.
"I was tingling and I was like, 'this can't be real -- am I looking at this right?'" Wallace said.
Not long afterward, Wallace began selling her shirts at the Galesburg Farmers Market and online.
Her products earned the esteem and clientship of numerous locals, including her pastor, the late Rev. Jon Sibley Sr.; Lee Ann Porter of Loving Bottoms Diaper Bank; and DeVone Eurales, president of the Galesburg chapter of the NAACP.
While four of Wallace's T-shirt designs relate to Christianity -- including a humorous one that reads, "More Jesus, Less Drama" -- she also sells shirts with inspirational phrases based on her favorite songs or her own life experiences. She created one design containing the phrase, "Your Life Matters," after she lived in an apartment and one of her young neighbors took his own life.
"From his outer appearance, he had everything going for him," Wallace said. "I felt so awful even though I didn't know him very well, and so that was what inspired my shirt. A lot of times you don't know what's going on inside of people's lives, and that's what Living Inside Out is about -- just sharing what's on the inside of you."
For customers who do buy Christian-themed shirts, Wallace sells accompanying testimony cards, or cards displaying the customer's story of how God changed their life. The customers can pass out the cards to others who ask about their shirts to help share their stories.
Wallace drives many faith-based conversations herself whenever she wears her shirts, and people who come up to ask her about the shirts often say they can relate to her messages. She hopes those kinds of connections will continue between anyone who sees the shirts over time.
In the flagship design for her shirt, the "i's" in the phrase "Living Inside Out" resemble stick figures of people -- both a reflection of Wallace's desire to connect with others, and a reminder of how God in the Christian tradition loves all people, inside and out.
"As much as I love fashion and the way the right clothes make us feel, it's not about the shirt -- it's about the person wearing it," Wallace said. "Kindness is the new beautiful."
Wallace's goal to reach and inspire others through her business has only begun, as she has many plans for the future of Living Inside Out Tees. The Register-Mail asked her about her ideas, why she always liked the fashion business and how she manages to balance being a business owner and a working mother.
Register-Mail: You mentioned you always wanted to work in fashion. How did you discover that passion? Sherrell Wallace: From a young age, I remember drawing for hours with my crayons and paper, creating colorful outfits. I would even bring my drawings to school and have my teachers pick their favorite ones. I think that passion came from envying my Aunt Sherryl. I was named after her and I always aspired to be just like her. She was a model and very beautiful and fashionable.
RM: How does Living Inside Out Tees allow you to express your creativity in that way?
SW: Living Inside Out Tees combines everything I am passionate about: my faith, fashion and encouraging others. I love being able to combine a cool T-shirt with positive messages that can make a difference, motivate and inspire others.
RM: Which T-shirt design are you most proud of, and why?
SW: My Living Inside Out tee logo, because it is uniquely mine. I am in the works of getting it trademarked. It is also very special to me because my pastor, the late Jon Sibley Sr., believed in me and what I was trying to do. He invested in me and paid for the design. He lived inside out by loving God and loving people, and that is definitely still apparent by the way he has touched our community. I have never seen anything like it.
RM: How long does it usually take you to make a new design for a shirt?
SW: It does not take me long to think of a new design. I am inspired all the time, but what takes the longest is coming up with the money to make it into a reality. It's not much money, but when finances are extra tight, it is definitely a challenge to make it happen as fast as you would like.
RM: If you had unlimited money and other resources, what would be your ultimate goal for your business?
SW: I would have my own print shop and a clothing store/cafe where people can come create their own tee and enjoy beverages, food, music and other resources that fill their soul. And to have Christians from all over the world sharing their testimonies in their everyday lives and sharing what God has done for them!
RM: Has your business brought you closer to your own faith, or allowed you to express it in a way different than before?
SW: Yes, definitely. When you step out in faith and act on what you believe, you begin to see God work and your faith just naturally grows. This business has allowed me to meet great people and hear their stories of how God has changed their lives. Their stories keep me going!
RM: How do you balance being a mother of three daughters and working at KCCDD with running your own business?
SW: It's definitely challenging being a single mother, but I'm motivated to give my daughters a better life and to teach them to follow their dreams, no matter what the obstacles.
RM: What lessons did you learn from being a parent and working at KCCDD that you apply as an entrepreneur?
SW: As a mother and employee of KCCDD, it's all about caring for others, putting them first and making their lives better. As an entrepreneur, it's all about the people you serve and making their lives better.