Social impact is the stock-in-trade for these equal opportunity entrepreneurs.
Katy DeSantis and Erin O’Flaherty have been best friends for 10 years. Over that decade, the entrepreneurial duo has come up with a few business ideas. There was the female clothing line (Ivy & Ash), the raw-food delivery service, and the running club (Sole Sisters). While none of those business ventures bore fruit, Erin and Katy have recently launched a business that is not only hitting the ground running, it’s making a local social impact.
When Katy and Erin met as students at UCF, they quickly hit it off and became roommates. Eventually Erin opened up to Katy, revealing her homosexuality. Katy couldn’t have been more supportive.
“She goes to more pride marches than I do,” boasts Erin. “She is truly an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.”
After graduation, Erin moved back to her home state of Missouri while Katy (who graduated from Lake Brantley High School in 2009) started her teaching career. The ladies both served as maids of honor in each other’s weddings.
In 2016, in an attempt to pay off her college loans, Erin (who was crowned Miss University of Central Florida in 2013) entered the Miss Missouri pageant. Not only did Erin win and become Miss Missouri, but she became the first openly lesbian woman to compete in the Miss America pageant. The national attention, both positive and negative, was overwhelming for Erin.
“There was so much hate,” Erin remembers. “It totally broke me.”
Erin, along with her wife Chelsea, recently moved back to Central Florida and chose to turn that overwhelming experience into something positive. Erin and Katy decided to launch Equalitee Co., a T-shirt and apparel company for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies that would give back locally. The plan was simple – create T-shirts with clean, simple designs and donate some of the profits back to organizations that support LGBTQ+ youth, like the Zebra Coalition.
“This isn’t just a T-shirt company,” says Erin, a real-estate agent. “It’s a social-impact business. We wanted to make this happen, so we just decided to take the plunge.”
The only problem? Katy, who is a third-grade teacher at Woodlands Elementary, was 36 weeks pregnant at the time.
“I thought to myself, ‘Am I really doing this?’” Katy remembers. “Am I launching a business weeks before I give birth?”
But they did, and the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Equalitee’s T-shirt designs are meant to be simple and clean and not “rainbow in your face,” according to Katy. While some of the designs are created by well-known designer Carra Sykes, many are also done by Erin’s wife Chelsea, who works in digital marketing.
Katy is most proud of the safe space T-shirt design, which combines her love of teaching with the company’s mission.
“I want students to know that teachers who wear this shirt are here to support them if they need it,” says Katy. “I just love the message on this shirt.”
While the business is just in the start-up phase, the ladies have a lot of plans beyond their current online store.
“We really want to be known in the community and be a brand people become familiar with,” says Katy. “We’d love to eventually have a kids’ line and pop-up shops, and people will look forward to us showing up at farmers markets.”
“And I wouldn’t be mad if Target picked us up,” Erin adds as both ladies laugh.
For now, Katy and Erin will focus on creating meaningful T-shirts and supporting the community they both love. As for the future, the ladies will continue working in real estate and education and keep spreading the love, one T-shirt at a time.
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