Dayna Peoples and Lexi Zeidan met teaching 3rd grade at a Detroit charter school. During their time throughout the district, they’d both witnessed a broken, underfunded system failing their vibrant, bright students. “We really wanted to do something about it,” says Peoples. They put their educator heads together and brainstormed side-business ideas that could fuel their mission to empower and uplift these kids and their communities. “We’d been creating a business plan for a very long time, but we just didn’t know what it was going to be,” explains Zeidan.
Their idea took root during the protests over the death of George Floyd and police brutality in America. Zeidan attended a protest and wore a Detroit Kids Matter t-shirt, originally created to show support for the city and students at her former school. When she posted it to Instagram, her inbox flooded with inquiries. People loved the message and wanted to wear the t-shirts in solidarity. “It was like the stars aligned for us,” says Zeidan. As protests rallied a national movement, Zeidan and Peoples decided to take the leap and transform the meaning behind the t-shirt into a mission-driven business.
In the summer of 2020, they launched Detroit Kids Matter (DKM), an apparel label created with love and care to advance the highly intellectual Detroit youth. DKM uses proceeds to partner with local non-profit organizations, ensuring resources and services reach Detroit kids. “We use a direct-to-kids model, similar to a direct-to-consumer. We cut out the middleman and bypass the grapevine. We give funds directly to youth organizations, started by youth, created by youth, and that benefit youth,” explains Zeidan.
In nine short months, DKM has partnered with Target stores all over Michigan to run back-to-school supply drives for students, worked with the Minority Freedom Community Fund, donated funds to local youth organizations, and partnered with community centers on student programming. Peoples and Zeidan also believe students benefit from healthy educators, so they’ve directed funds towards teacher gift-baskets and stipends for mental wellness as well.
“We have intentional partnerships within the city with people who do their work well so it ultimately benefits the kids,” explains Zeidan. They’ve joined forces on pop-up events with a neighborhood bakery, For the Love of Sugar, and local restaurant, Flowers of Vietnam. They also source their quality merchandise from mission-aligned Stitching Up Detroit, a screen-print and design collective founded by Detroit youth.
Building a sustainable, mission-driven small business has opened up a lot of collaborative opportunities, and they’ve been welcomed into what they call “the rebirth” of the Detroit entrepreneur community. “I love the buy-in from the community,” says Peoples, who regularly sees DKM apparel on coworkers, neighbors, and supportive small business owners.
Peoples and Zeidan use their different perspectives to fine-tune big ideas as they adapt and grow DKM. Zeidan is more of a perfectionist; Peoples has a big picture mentality. “We balance each other out and hold each other accountable to our bigger mission,” says Peoples. Busy with their education careers, they use a group chat to brainstorm DKM development ideas and plans of action. Recently, in the spirit of supporting youth, they’ve added a third team member and perspective to the thread--a college student who coordinates communications to better reach DKM’s market.
Launching a small business in 2020 has had its challenges. “The pandemic has definitely forced us to get creative. We’ve had to step out of our comfort-zones and be self-reliant when it comes to building skills we never knew we had,” Zeidan admits. They had to build out their own marketing campaigns, creating video content and social media posts, but the process has really helped hone DKM’s point of view. Follow along on their Instagram account and it quickly becomes clear that they’re speaking directly to the kids: You matter. It’s an important priority to their mission, especially when many students face equity challenges in an isolating pandemic. “Our biggest challenge is to figure out how we can best support students in these times,” says Peoples.
DKM’s message and mission are resonating both locally and beyond. Detroit’s Children’s Hospital and Teach for America have placed bulk orders to outfit staff and incoming corps members. Peoples and Zeidan are motivated by all the support and delighted to be shipping orders to far-reaching states, like California, Colorado, and Texas.
So what does the future hold for DKM? Peoples and Zeidan are committed to broadening their business skills so they can better serve the mission of their organization. “We want to get behind our message even more in the coming year,” they say. They’re currently exploring ways to further engage Detroit kids in safe, hands-on ways. One plan involves a social media take-over where students lead the conversation. “There’s so much power in unshared stories,” says Zeidan, “So we want to elevate students through their stories. Put the students in control of their education, and let their voices be the loudest in the room.”
We’ll be checking back in with Detroit Kids Matter in June to see how Peoples and Zeidan are furthering the mission of their business during their inaugural year.