“We hire the ones that get missed, the ones people don’t see,” says the company's founder.
Last year I wrote about a Chicago company founded with the sole purpose of employing homeless veterans.
It’s not a charity. It’s a for-profit silk-screening company called Rags of Honor, and I bring it up again because there’s good news to report, and we can always use a bit of good news.
Since last year, the company has grown, now employing 12 veterans full time and occupying a 10,000-square-foot space, upping its capacity from 1,400 shirts per day to 4,000.
Last month, Rags of Honor announced it has partnered with two of the largest companies licensed to produce National Football League merchandise, Outerstuff and VF Imagewear. It supplied hundreds of T-shirts at the NFL draft, which was in Chicago last week.
Already producing shirts for the Chicago Blackhawks and working on a line of athletic wear with boxing great Evander Holyfield, Rags of Honor is on track to double its sales from last year and, most importantly, open up new opportunities for jobless veterans.
“We’re staying alive in a competitive industry, paying people twice what they would normally get paid,” said company founder Mark Doyle, a Chicago businessman who has worked for President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. “We’re trying to create something that lasts.”
What Doyle has done is proven, once again, that the men and women who served this country only to return and struggle to find work are not just capable employees but capable of anything.
None of the people who work at Rags of Honor had past experience in silk-screening. But they were trained, they learned all aspects of the business and turned it into a smooth-running operation, one that has lifted them up from the streets and given them stability and a sense of mission.
“We hire the ones that get missed, the ones people don’t see,” Doyle said. “All they want is a shot.”
But not enough are getting that shot.
At Rags of Honor, one employee in his 20s served on 150 combat missions in Afghanistan. Before Doyle hired him, he was sleeping in his car.
“We had one guy working for us for seven months and then I found out he was still homeless,” Doyle said. “He just didn’t want to complain about it. That’s the way these guys are.”
Doyle helped the man find housing. That’s kind of what he does. He sunk his entire savings into starting the company because he was shocked by the high unemployment and suicide rates among veterans.
“In our own little way, every day, we’re changing somebody’s life, I hope,” Doyle said.
This new partnerships with NFL licensees puts Rags of Honor closer to one of Doyle’s bigger aspirations: To convince the league to let his team of U.S. veterans produce shirts and other silk-screened gear that would sell in every stadium in America on Veterans Day.
“Made in America, by veterans,” Doyle said. “That seems right, doesn’t it?”
Many things have to change before our country can truly say it cares for its veterans. And for all the good Rags of Honor is doing, it’s a tiny drop in the bucket.
I hope other companies can look at it as a success story and recognize the abilities, the qualities and the devotion veterans bring to a workforce.
All they need is a chance.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.