Since the start of the devastating wildfires that plagued the North Bay in the early weeks of October, over 10 different local and national designers have joined together in the Artists Create to Rebuild fundraiser — a Sonoma County based nonprofit established following the wildfire that has raised almost $2,000 for fire relief efforts through creative t-shirt designs.
Aimee Levindofske, owner and creative director for her Sonoma County based Aimee Design Company and Lexy Rubin, a Penngrove designer and founder of Elu Creative, decided to start the nonprofit just days after the start of the fire and partnered with Redwood Credit Union to have 100 percent of the t-shirt proceeds go directly to fire victims.
The idea for the impromptu nonprofit was sparked when Rubin noticed other designers creating t-shirts that evoked Sonoma County pride and hope. Rubin said she wanted to be able to make a difference and help in some way since she knew many people who were affected by the fires.
“I was just so deeply affected by the tragedy here and I’m pretty sure everyone in Sonoma County felt that… We’ve had friends who have lost their homes, it was overall a very hard and upsetting 12 days,” Rubin explained, who got voluntarily evacuated twice from her home due to the smoke and poor air quality. “Going into that second week when the fires were starting to calm down I was seeing great shirts getting made and people wearing their community pride and I thought, what a great idea.”
However, Rubin and Levindofske’s idea had to go through a lengthy process to find the right platform and entity for the proceeds to go to.
“We looked into how we were even going to make this work… so we partnered with the Redwood Credit Union and this site called bonfire. They do t-shirts and they take the money from the first five and after that all the proceeds go to whatever charity you want and we liked Redwood Credit Union,” Levindofske said.
The duo chose the Redwood Credit Union since they are taking monetary donations, something evacuee shelters and fire victims are mostly in need of. Disaster relief organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are currently only accepting monetary donations as well as the Salvation Army, which has so far served 58,565 meals to fire victims and needs funds to continue their meal and snack service.
According to the Salvation Army Del Oro Division website, 100 percent of monetary proceeds go to relief efforts and, “May be used to provide food and drinks to survivors or direct financial aid to those affected.”
“I feel like a lot of the victims are getting supplies and food and clothing, but the real need would be monetary… I can’t even imagine all the things these people are going to need to do so I thought, let’s give them money and use our craft to be able to do it” Levindofske said.
This “craft” consists of various shirt designs, all of which evoke the recurring message of finding hope and determination in rebuilding after the destruction of the fires. Levindofske created the first two shirts for the fundraiser, each of which had earthy green and brown tones and unique inspirational mantras — one with, “From ash hope rises, Sonoma strong,” and the other embossed over an image of a grove of trees declaring, “Santa Rosa strong,”
The local designer explained that her inspiration came from the desire to come up with an empowering message other than the #sonomastrong that has been made popular.
“I was trying to think of a message because everyone has been doing ‘Sonoma strong,’ so for my first t-shirt that I did it was ‘from ash hope rises,’ and I wanted it to be empowering — this happened but there is hope and there are communities around you that support you,” Levindofske said of her designs.
Rubin also worked with Levindofske to get some initial designs live on their website in the space of only 20 minutes and looked towards the concept of simplicity in her designs.
The team also reined in the help of both local and national designers, with artists from Florida, Oregon and New York pitching in to create original shirt designs.
Kristin Ren, a New York based designer, was one such national designer who wanted to help out with the fundraiser.
Ren and Rubin were friends when Rubin had lived in New York for five years building up her career and when Ren heard about the fires, she too wanted to help after hearing of the destruction that the massive wildfires had caused.
“When I heard about the fires I reached out to her to see if she was OK and she was giving me news of what was going on and how she knew people who were being affected locally in her area and when she came up with the idea to fundraise, I said I’m all in,” Ren exclaimed.
Despite the fact that Ren was clear across the country while the fires raged, she said it wasn’t hard to relate to since it was seen as such a tragic human experienc since she knew Rubin.
“I know it is kind of crazy being on a different coast and seeing these disasters happen so far away, but knowing one person makes it feel like you know every person and I think me having that connection and hearing her describe what was going on then there was no question that of course I would help,” Ren said.
Ren’s design was created with hand drawn typography that she then digitized and created a design with a heart wrapping around the words, “Sonoma Strong.” In creating the shirt design she said she asked herself what her motivation was for helping, and the main message that came out was love, “I was thinking what is my primary motivation to do this design and mostly it was just about trying to be human and sending love and good vibes to people who were having a hard time. I wanted it to be sweet and heartfelt and send a little love from the east coast to the west.”
So far Rubin and Levindofske have sold 147 shirts to raise a total of $1,191.96, a figure that is expected to grow, according to Rubin, who now has the fundraising goal set at $2,000.
“It has grown so much in literally a week. I opened this group last Thursday (Oct.19) so it’s been only a week and we’ve had so many sales and the group has grown. A lot of people were upset and wanting to do something to help… it is just incredible,” Rubin said.