Both my business and subsequently my book would never have existed if not for my season of brokenness and desperation.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Evans who is the CEO and co-founder of Project 615. In 2010, he launched his apparel company to do “work that matters” and utilize that platform to help change the world. Derek has helped hire fifty-four people recovering from homelessness, built an orphanage in Uganda, and raised over half a million dollars for various world-changing non-profit organizations. One hundred percent of the profits for this book will be donated to Room in the Inn (501c3). He resides with his wife in Nashville, TN.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Oddly enough, I ended up on this career path after being laid off from another job. It’s crazy how you can know with absolute certainty that you are on the wrong path, but still, blindly follow it because stepping out into uncharted territory is too scary to contemplate. I was working an eight-to-five job for a general contractor in my hometown of Indianapolis and had just been given a promotion.
Before I was laid off, I had a good job, a great salary, and my own office. At the age of twenty-four, my life ticked all the boxes for where I thought I should be. But, in truth, I was just going through the motions. It was like I was walking around in shoes that were two sizes too small, but everybody kept telling me how great they looked, so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
Deep down, I knew I was living a life that didn’t fit. I had a yearning for something greater than the path laid out before me, but no idea how to escape the pressure to conform to what was expected of me. Then, a few months after I had been given the promotion I thought I wanted, my boss walked into my office and told me the company was going under. He shook my hand, thanked me for all my hard work, and handed me a severance check for 1,000 dollars. I knew that I should have been devastated — or, at the very least, seriously concerned about my immediate financial security — but all I could feel in that moment was this huge sense of relief. I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew for sure that I didn’t want to spend it sitting in that office.
My first thought was: I’m going to Nashville. It struck me as this place where people from all walks of life come to pursue their dreams. I wasn’t sure what dream I was chasing or what I would do for work when I got there, but I figured nothing could feel worse than slowly suffocating behind a desk in Indiana.
After being laid off, I was able to take that opportunity to really assess what I wanted to do with my life and where I really wanted to be. Later, when I went on a mission trip to Skid Row in Los Angeles to serve the homeless, I realized my dream to create a business that would help people in need in Nashville. So, I, along with my business partner, Matt Blinco, decided to create a business that would help people by creating jobs for those in need as well as the ability to give money back to the community and world through local non-profits.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
One of the most interesting things to me is how we started as a simple t-shirt company focused on positive messaging, and now our shirts are worn by celebrities all over the world, raising awareness of local and global issues. It’s really cool to see how big of an impact we have.
To this day, however, nothing can quite compare to the excitement I felt the day Lady Gaga was spotted wearing our “Spread Love” tee — in Nashville, no less. Matt and I were actually out of town because we had taken a couple of team members to a leadership conference in Atlanta. We had pulled up to the hotel at about 4:00 in the afternoon. As we were checking in, I started getting notifications that people were tagging Project 615 in photos they were posting on Instagram.
I checked my personal account and I had a couple of direct messages from friends saying, “Dude, Lady Gaga’s walking around town wearing your shirt!” My phone was blowing up and Matt and I were looking at each other like, “No freakin’ way. There’s no way this is true.” But, sure enough, it was.
When I got up to my room, I went online and there was video footage all over the Internet of Lady Gaga stepping out of an old-school Ford Bronco wearing a pink cowboy hat and our “Spread Love” tee. It turned out that one of the co-writers for her new song “Million Reasons” was from Nashville, so she had decided to kick off her Dive Bar Tour — a series of pop-up concerts in small venues across the country to promote her upcoming album — in Nashville. Now here she was outside The 5 Spot in East Nashville, literally down the street from our new store, wearing our shirt. It was like a massive billboard broadcasting our core mission and message to the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the beginning, it was pretty chaotic because we didn’t really know a whole lot about screen printing or mass-producing t-shirts, so it was a lot of DIY trial and error. One of the funniest moments was when we got this huge order (hundreds of shirts) from someone that had heard about us and our mission and wanted to support our cause. This was a big deal for us as we were just starting out. We were so excited! Printing went great, the shirts looked awesome, and we proudly delivered them to the client.
However, we soon found out that we missed a key element of the production process, properly drying the shirt after the print. This meant the design washed away when they were laundered. At any rate, we immediately picked up the shirts and replaced them.
Needless to say, at the time, it wasn’t so funny. But looking back now, we can laugh at our inexperience. I do think we learned a couple of things from that situation though: we needed a good quality check and customer service intent on fixing mistakes goes a very long way.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We’re really focusing on expanding and growing Project 615, so there are a lot of exciting things going on there. We were actually awarded a bid to put Project 615 in the Nashville airport, which means travelers from all over the world will see our brand and our impact will be able to spread!
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
I believe, for me, the habit of reading a lot of books with a lot of diversity in content and writing styles have had the most influence on my writing. I was able to take in other people’s work then hone in on my own stories and style of writing.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
Both my business and subsequently my book, Made to Change the World, would never have existed if not for my season of brokenness and desperation. During that time period, I was introduced to outreach efforts and nonprofits serving the homeless. Being able to spend time with people struggling with homelessness during that low point in my life made me have so much compassion for those people and a true desire to make a change.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
We all have unique skills, gifts, and talents that we are born with, that come to us naturally. I want the readers to know that, whatever their particular gift is, that it truly can be used to change the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re a nurse, teacher, coach, parent, cartoon artist, etc. If you have the desire and drive to make a difference, you can absolutely use your talents to change the world.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
The biggest challenge was getting to a place where I could be truly open and vulnerable about my own life and journey. One of the ways I overcame that was by looking into the future and hoping that even one person going through a challenging time could read my story and be inspired by what I went through.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I love and am always inspired by people’s stories, so non-fiction and history are my favorites. Hearing about how other people have experienced the world truly inspires me.
How do you think your writing makes an impact on the world?
My hope is that other people can read my story and be encouraged and inspired. I think if someone reads Made To Change The World, they can learn from my experiences and hopefully have the courage to step out to fulfill their own dreams.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Be authentic and real! People love and identify with authenticity.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You have to make time to write.
- Always keep it interesting.
- Don’t write for money or publicity. Do it to encourage and inspire.
- Be prepared to feel burned out; it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
- Be prepared to spend money on the project; it doesn’t happen overnight or for free. You have to be willing to invest time, energy, and money.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Forgiveness. I think oftentimes, myself included, we talk about spreading love, spreading joy, loving people of all races, ethnicities, genders, etc. But I think one thing we lack, is how we oftentimes don’t forgive others.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @Project615
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!