When Melvin Buchanan and John Graves found themselves locked down in a pandemic, they put their sense of community, commitment to love and creative skills to use launching a shop of Atlanta-centric Pride merchandise.
"The pandemic stopped the world, and that gave us space for reflection." the couple said. "We realized that now is the time to show resilience and shine our light on a world that is hurting and dealing with a great deal of uncertainty."
Their rumination manifested in the swag-filled virtual ATL Pride Shop T-shirts, bags, caps, beanies and more carry LGBTQ themes with local flair. The owners anticipated some designs to fly off of the shelves, but buyers offered a few surprises, too, they said.
“The best sellers are the simple, multi-colored bottom ‘ATL’ hats or sweatshirts,” the owners added. “The surprise was how many people were checking out our Bi merch. We’re here for it!”
Buchanan and Graves have been a couple for over three years, and that good fit translated well into working on the shop. Buchanan handles design and marketing, and Graves oversees the website, social platforms and customer service.
Buchanan kept the idea for rainbow-themed Pride merchandise under his hat for a few years, and Graves kept his finger on the pulse of community issues through his graduate work in Applied Sociology. The coronavirus shutdowns created the time to pool those interests.
“We’ve always wanted to make some sort of impact within our community,” the men said. “Through [Graves’] studies, he has focused on issues such as increasing the use of PrEP and reducing homelessness of LGBTQ+ youth.”
In fact, that latter issue plays into another critical aspect of the ATL Pride Shop vision: A portion of sales benefits Lost N Found Youth. A second non-profit is in the works, with plans to expand the donations and beneficiaries down the road.
“We are a new business. As we begin to sell more, the plan is to donate at least 10 percent of our proceeds to LGBTQ organizations,” the couple promised. “We want the amounts to be substantial, but it’s depends on the market. Outside of donating to organizations, we hope to use our social account to highlight ones that serve our community.”
The commitment to a broader community runs deep for the ATL Pride Shop guys. They offered a challenge to other LGBTQ Atlantans that goes far beyond t-shirts and hats.
“We would like to challenge people to reach out to someone in their lives — or not so much; even a stranger — and just check on them,” they said. “ You never know who needs to hear from you.”
It’s a matter of Pride, and it lasts far beyond Pride Week in Atlanta.
“Pride is so many things, and it’s year-round,” the couple said. “It should make us feel warm and encouraged. It is our job as human beings to make everyone feel welcome.”
The sentiment, like the ATL Pride Shop itself, comes through one constant, the men said.
“Love is our key motivator,” they said. “Love is essential for our survival. If we can make at least one person feel that they are loved through our creations, we’ve succeeded.”