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These Throwback Tees Fund Important Projects In National Parks

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Parks Project sells artfully designed tees celebrating national parks, the sale of which funds needed conservation and preservation efforts. Parks Project gets dirty sometimes, going out into national parks and helping to care for them by planting trees, or removing invasive species. They also organize volunteer days for those interested in doing good work outdoors. To fund the projects parks need, they design and sell tees and other swag, inspired by various parks. Though based in the Los Angeles area, their work takes place in national parks across the country.

Keith Eshelman is the Parks Project Trail Crew leader and runs their volunteer program. He told LAist that the group was founded by Sevag Kazanci, a musician and craftsman who had formerly worked with TOMS, Volcom and O'neill.

"At TOMS, he saw first hand how business could make impact and being an outdoorsmen, saw potential to take a give back business in a different direction. Also, after dealing with many overseas vendors, there was also an opportunity to create a made in the USA brand that supports many awesome manufacturers at home instead of overseas," Eshelman said.

The group of nature lovers first started out by trying to get their friends to volunteer in parks.

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"We got out as a group, did work, felt good about it, and would celebrate after a day's hard work with a cold one or two," Eshelman said.

But because so many of them had experience with producing clothing, they fell upon the idea of designing T-shirts to represent the parks. Soon, they developed a full line of shirts and accessories. Some reference specific parks, while others have phrases like "Leave it better than you left it."

"Now, we think it has come full circle because we are still driving volunteer events, but using apparel as a way to tell stories that need support across all our favorite national parks," Eshelman said.

To figure out the design for each tee, they first talk to different park groups or park superintendents to figure out what's going on and what the parks' needs are, which often lie in the vein of conservation or preservation. "It's been a real fun adventure to learn about the various natural ecosystems and challenges we face in preserving these places," he said.

The group then writes out a few paragraphs regarding the situation before turning the copy over to graphic designers, who translate the words into an image. Designers include Kevin Circosta and Gabriel Lacktman, who also pitch in on Parks' volunteer days.

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When the shirts are sold, the proceeds go to the project the shirt represents.

"One of our favorite [projects] that is close to home for us is the Muir Woods project," Eshelman said. "We have learned how many of the redwoods are having a hard time propagating in the park because non-native species are stealing 'real estate' in the park. That means many redwood seeds aren't making it to the ground because some of the Scottish bloom and other shrubs blossom early in the year and catch the redwood seeds before they have a chance."

So, Parks Project works to support the nursery that supplies seedlings to plan in the park, as well as hosts volunteer days in the park. Their Muir Woods tee reflects this story.

Parks Project is currently working on patterning with the National Park Foundation to celebrate the organization's centennial. They also collaborate with a different person each quarter. For fall, they're working with Los Angeles artist Steven Harrington on artwork that represents Big Sur. The sale of these T-shirts will support art programs in Big Sur.