!– Twitter Card data –> <!– Open Graph data –> <!– Schema.org markup for Google+ –>

Written by: Craig Handel



For those who know Sam Lewis, Wear The Fund (WTF) is his Fort Myers-based company, which specializes in screen printing, embroidery and promotional items.

However, what he feels makes him different in this ultra-competitive field is that he’s taken a well-intentioned business idea and “put it on steroids.”

Wear The Fund donates 3 percent of every purchase to the clients’ specified charity or non-profit choice. This contribution is significantly higher than Amazon’s program at .5 percent of sales and Patagonia's at 1 percent.

Sam developed this idea while earning degrees in psychology and business at the University of Florida. Presenting it to professors caused him a considerable amount of consternation.

They told him he could be Mother Theresa or Warren Buffett, but not both.

“I could either get rich or help people,” Sam recalls. “One said I had to go to work, get wealthy, then be a philanthropist. I thought, ‘Why do that for 10, 15 years if it’s not a job you want?’ 

The message he received of not being able to have his cake and eat it, too made young Lewis angry. If left him feeling that acronym that most people associate with WTF.

“There was this inner pull,” Sam said. “I am an entrepreneur and capitalist. But I also feel there’s a much better way to do it.

“Profit should not be the bottom line. My cause is a result of my desire to intersect entrepreneurship and philanthropy.”


Entrepreneurial beginnings

At age 13, Sam bought and sold paintball equipment on eBay. He’d buy entire sets, then take them apart and sell pieces individually.

“I turned $500 into $1,000,” he said.

From there, Sam worked at restaurants as a teen through college. He worked his way from busboy to waiter. “I enjoy being around people,” he said.

Now 28, Sam started Wear The Fund seven years ago in his dad’s extra room – “Bob’s garage,” he said – well aware garages are where Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard (Hewlett-Packard), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) and Walt Disney (well, you know) also began their empires.

“It’s the house I was born in,” Sam says. “I remember the room was like 12 by 13 feet. 

“I wanted to help people, I wanted to be successful, I wanted to make a lot of money, I wanted to be a philanthropist and I wanted to do it tomorrow.”

Time and patience have turned him from being an over-optimist to a realist.

But it hasn’t kept him from being an idealist.

His foundation is built on four operating principles, which include values, quality, and sustainability.

No. 1 is the purpose. “It’s what drives us,” he said. 

The purpose is what drove Sam when he didn’t become an overnight success. 

The purpose is what drove him when profits came hard to come by.

The purpose is what drove him when he had to make hard decisions with staff. He’s reminded of Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard, who had to lay off 20 percent of his workforce, most of whom were close friends.

And purpose drove Sam when his challenges of anxiety were taxed by making ends meet. He is extremely appreciative of girlfriend Noelle Casagrande who gets him out networking and away from the job. She also has made connecting with people easier.

“She was in my garage when I had my first sale,” he said. “She’s really helped me a lot. She knows so much about marketing. She’s worth five times what I’ve been able to pay her.”


Does the business model work?

In his seventh year of operation, Lewis’ company has given diverse causes close to $200,000. That includes amongst many others:

·       LARC ( Lee County Association for Remarkable Citizens)

·       Foundation for Lee County Public Schools

·       Keep Lee County Beautiful

·       Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships

·       Alzheimer's Association

But can a small business afford to have 5 percent coming off its bottom line? Most businesses like Wear The Fund have a 5-10 percent profit margin, according to IBISWorld, an industry expert in market research. 

Can this work? Does it work?

In 2017-18, Wear The Fund has seen 12 percent revenue growth. It has more than 200 clients. And it has printed 148,000 items, which have generated more than $500,000 in sales. 

“I point to him often,” said Sarah Owen, CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. “When people come in and say, ‘I don’t know whether to start a business or a non-profit, I say, ‘You don’t have to pick. Here’s a good business that does good.”

Sarah said she’s enjoyed following Sam’s career over the years because of his social entrepreneur philosophy that “has a cool factor”, the boot camps he’s involved in, and his willingness to step up in big moments like Hurricane Irma.

“He was one of the first to reach out and say, ‘I want to do something,’ “ she said. “He wants to be part of the solution. He continues trying to learn and improve his business and commit to the community. I see a guy that gets up early and works as hard as he can.

“It’s neat to see him grow and succeed.”

Angela Katz, development director for LARC, met Sam in 2012 and remembers him as “this young guy coming out of college with a big dream that adult business people were telling him wasn’t possible.

“That didn’t stop him,” Angela said. “Sam never deviated from his vision and commitment to maintaining a business model that gives back to the community.”

Angela believes his business will continue to thrive because consumers are more likely to do business and remain loyal to companies who are charitable.

“I know I am,” she said. “Sam was probably ahead of his time and I think it’s great he proved those nay-sayers wrong.

“He is a true leader who we all should follow.”

Noelle says it’s not just part of Wear The Fund to give back but that it’s part of Sam’s DNA.

“I love the win-win-win idea he has,” she said. “It’s a win for himself, it’s a win for the customer and it’s a win for society.”

Our Mission

"Create a world where profit is not the bottom-line, one shirt at a time."

Our Vision

We aspire to offer the most valuable custom apparel, as well as our own retail line. Value to us means quality, sustainability, fair price, fair labor... and a partner you can trust from the cutting and sewing of the shirt to the final imprint.

Our Team

 We value our team, and are always looking for talent! Please e-mail info@wearthefund.com if you are interested in working with/for WTF, and we'll be in touch!

 Get to know our team members.