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Summerside's Luke Walker and Megan McDonald are known for their quirky online business - East Coast AF - that captures popular local sayings and immortalizes local heroes, such as Lucy the Duck, on T-shirts, hats and hoodies.
But recently, the long-time friends decided to create COVID-19 shirts that recognize the new heroes these days, namely, Atlantic Canada's four chief public health officers.
'BE PATIENT, BE KIND'
Orders are already coming in, and the owners are donating $2 from the sale of each pandemic themed shirt to Food Banks Canada.
"We've been really lucky here, and Megan and I have both been really lucky. But a lot of people have fallen on hard times because of the pandemic. And a lot of the rest of the country is even a lot worse. So (we) decided to go with an organization that would help people everywhere, not just on P.E.I.," said Walker.
One pandemic shirt says, 'Be patient, be kind,' and then underneath, the attribution to 'Dr. Heather Morrison.' There is also a shirt with the names of the chief public health (or medical) officers for the four Atlantic Canadian provinces - 'Morrison & Strang & Russell & Fitzgerald' as well as a 'Don't make me mute you' shirt to help make a statement during Zoom calls.
T-shirts are listed at $35 and come in a variety of colours and sizes. There is also a 'Be patient, be kind,' hoodie and a baby onesie listed on the East Coast AF website. Walker, 39, and McDonald, 34, say they are brainstorming other ideas for more COVID-19 themed clothing items that they hope to release soon.
LUCY THE DUCK
They launched the online business in 2017. Since then, they've captured the lighter side of Island and Maritime life.
Examples of their earlier work include shirts that say, "Anne is my homegirl" and "No, no, no, yes, no." There is also a "Live like Lucy" shirt honouring Lucy the duck, who gained celebrity status with Islanders with her annual arrival and stay at the Charlottetown Superstore's garden centre on University Avenue to nest and have her ducklings.
One year, she showed up with a boyfriend - Lucifer. When it was time for Lucy and the ducklings to leave the nest, local police would escort her to make sure she, and the ducklings, were safe.
Video via Ducks Unlimited Atlantic Canada
So far, the online business has operated more as a side project for Walker and McDonald. McDonald is a chiropractor and owner of The Fix in Summerside - a sports medicine clinic and boutique training studio - and Walker works for the provincial government.
But as with other businesses, COVID-19 provided an opportunity to reflect and look for improvements. Walker took another look at the website and improved it where needed, and he is taking another look at the inventory to see what's selling and what isn't.
COVID-19 also allowed the business to rethink its suppliers.
"Our original suppliers were based in the U.S. or Europe. And I noticed some orders that came in were being redirected to Latvia and were just taking forever to come," said Walker.
Suppliers in the U.S. were also impacted by COVID-19, and getting inventory across the border was difficult. So Walker decided this summer to switch to Canadian suppliers.
"That was great for us because now we're able to get all of our shirts printed and delivered a lot faster as we were in the past," said Walker.
He added that supply and inventory issues also had an interesting twist this year in terms of difficulty getting shirts in the colours "mauve" and "heather mauve".
"This summer, 'mauve' and 'heather mauve' had been our most popular colours. And I love it, too. I have a couple of mauve coloured shirts. But now they've been completely taken off the website because nobody can get them," he said.
Currently, the business is online sales only, and as such, there isn't much inventory on hand in Summerside.
But that is another change the owners are looking at - having shirts available for in-person retail at some point. And now that McDonald owns another business - The Fix - they could already have a place for that retail opportunity.
"We'll have a place that we can sell it because people like to see things and touch things in person before purchasing sometimes. So, hopefully, in the near future, we'll be able to do both - have some retail and continue the online business," said McDonald.
Some of East Coast AF's popular shirt sayings and designs:
- Don't make me mute you
- Be patient, be kind
- Morrison & Strang & Russell & Fitzgerald
- Maybe I'm Just Salty
- Chillin' w/my buoys
- Smell the Fresh East Coast (don)AIR
- From away
- Live like Lucy
- We're probs related
- Anne is my homegirl
- Let's get ship faced
More information on East Coast AF, its shirts and ordering information can be found at eastcoastaf.ca.
Terrence McEachern is a local business reporter for the SaltWire Network.