Money and The Bee T-shirt company stays rooted in community service
Michael Albee and Frank Martinez started their t-shirt company — Monkey and the Bee — after “we started freaking out about how to pay for our wedding,” the men explained.
Martinez suggested Albee, a graphic designer, put his art on a t-shirt. And, Albee said, “We decided to go for it, see if there’s an interest.”
They launched their company last December with one t-shirt design called Bear Hugs. It features two bears trying to hug, but their bellies get in the way. “Hug me,” says one bear and the other answers, “I’m trying.”
With the success of Bear Hugs, they added Big Banana, Let Them Have Cake and more.
In addition to online sales, Albee said they’ve been doing well at pop-up shops at the Round-Up Saloon where Martinez is a bartender, at the Dallas Eagle and at the Jewish Community Center.
While Albee had the bear community in mind while creating his designs — and they did very well at a vendor booth at Texas Bear Round Up — the shirts are reaching a much larger audience now.
At the JCC, Albee said, a seven-year-old told his dad, “I want you to get a Bear Hugs shirt so every time I see you I can give you a big hug.”
That pleased Albee, because his goal is for the designs to be fun, snarky and playful without being overtly sexual, even if they do have a certain appeal to the gay community.
“We play with innuendo without being sexual,” he said.
Albee said when it comes to making the business successful, he and his partner compliment each other. While Albee is concerned with good, original art, Martinez is interested in the quality of the t-shirt.
So six months into their company, is Monkey and the Bee helping pay for their wedding? Albee said they’ve sold $15,000 in t-shirts in less than six months and they’re less than a month away from their wedding.
But that doesn’t mean the wedding is paid for: “All the profits have been reinvested in the company, because it’s working,” Albee said.
So they’ve found other ways to pay for their wedding ceremony and reception. They chose Resource Center as their venue, noting that it was an obvious choice for them.
“The money for renting the space goes back into the programs of Resource Center,” Albee said, “so it was a no-brainer for us.”
Martinez is not only a bartender at the Round-Up, but president of REBA — Round-Up Employees Benevolent Association — an organization founded during the AIDS crisis that continues to help employees through rough periods. He also runs the bar’s Thanksgiving “feed the community” dinner.
“My heart is with the food pantry,” Martinez said, and for the Thanksgiving dinner, he reaches out to Resource Center’s clients.
Having their own company now, Martinez said, presents a special opportunity. “I always wanted to do something that matters with a portion of the proceeds,” he said.
So Albee designed a shirt called Love Unconditionally. Each month, $5 from the sale of each one of those shirts goes to a different charity. The first month, proceeds benefitted a GoFundMe account set up for a Dallas assault victim. Since then, Resource Center, Legacy Counseling Center and Angie’s Friends for abused and neglected animals in East Dallas have been recipients.
In addition, the couple ran a Facebook Live auction. A local artist hand-stoned five shirts that sold to bidders who had shown up for the auction or were bidding online. Albee said in an hour they raised $1,000, which they donated to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund to end LGBT youth homelessness.
Monkey and the Bee has already branched out beyond t-shirts. They now also offer a few phone cases and pillows sewn from fabric with their original designs.
To see Monkey and the Bee shirts, visit MonkeyBeeTees.com or visit their pop-up store at Bear Happy Hour from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, June 16 at the Round-Up Saloon.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 16, 2017.