Five wounded warriors from across the country are in Grand Rapids this week to take part in a one-of-a-kind program called “Fashion Has Heart.”
The program, created by Grand Valley State University student Michael Hyacinthe, works to pair wounded veterans with designers and business leaders so they can fulfill their creative and entrepreneurial ambitions, all while using the experience to help them rehabilitate and reintegrate with society.
The “Fashion Has Heart” program will keep the veterans busy for the week they are in Grand Rapids. First, they will meet with a senior designer for footwear manufacturer Wolverine World Wide, where they will work to produce a unique boot design. Wolverine will make two pairs of each design, one for the veteran and one that will be part of a display at ArtPrize, a large public art contest that draws hundreds of thousands to Grand Rapids each fall. Over the weekend, the veterans will get a chance to meet with Grand Rapids-based entrepreneur Rick DeVos to talk about his StartGarden program and what it means to be an entrepreneur. Finally, the veterans will meet with professional graphic designers to create a T-shirt design that will be part of the ArtPrize entry, and will be sold throughout the weeks-long art competition.
“One goal of the program is to help these veterans embrace their entrepreneurial spirit,” Hyacinthe said. “We will sell their shirts during ArtPrize and into the future. We give them a chance to be entrepreneurs and sell their design, and we pay them royalties for every shirt that they sell.”
The shirts will also be featured at the Forbes Magazine Art Gallery in New York City for Veterans Day 2013.
The program is about more than money and shirt sales, Hyacinthe said. “It’s a fantastic way for these veterans to reintegrate after their service, and a great chance for them to fulfill creative ambitions and opportunities. The positive feedback we’ve gotten from this program from wounded vets across the country has been simply amazing,” he said.
“Fashion Has Heart” is a program near to Hyacinthe’s heart. Having served in the United States Navy for eight years, and having experienced the loss of family members in the service, he realized the potential the program had to help improve the lives of wounded veterans and for them to use it as a creative outlet that could assist in their long recoveries from battlefield injuries.
“The first year we designed the shirts ourselves and sold them, just to donate the proceeds to veterans groups, but then we asked one veteran to help us design the shirt and the response we got was overwhelming,” Hyacinthe said.
Hyacinthe said he made connections in a Grand Valley leadership class taught by Gleaves Whitney, director of Grand Valley’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, to help make the project a success.
“Professor Whitney helped me squeeze the most out of my leadership ability, and gave me knowledge and confidence,” Hyacinthe said. “The experience has allowed me to network with unique and amazing people, and make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Hyacinthe expects to graduate from Grand Valley in August with a bachelor’s degree in public administration and a minor in business.
For more information, visit fashionhasheart.org.