What is 3E Love...?
3E Love, LLC. is a social entrepreneurial experiment to change the perception of disability. The company was started by siblings Annie & Stevie Hopkins in 2007 with the intent of promoting their unique symbol and social model of disability. The company's trademarked International Symbol of Acceptance (wheelchair heart logo) is the drive behind it's social mission to provide the tools for others to embrace diversity, educate society, and empower each other to love life. What was once just a small Chicago disability pride clothing brand is now an international movement of acceptance. People with disabilities are everywhere, and thousands of t-shirts and other items later, so is the 3E Love message.
"3E Love is more than living disabled but is simply about living. Everyone has the freedom to live their life. We challenge you to do what you love, because you'll meet some amazing people along the way, and that, our friends, is how you'll enjoy this ride that 3E Love calls, life.
Embrace diversity. Educate your community. Empower each other. Love life."
- 3E Love Founder, Annie Hopkins (1984-2009)
The journey of 3E Love actually began in 2004 when Annie created the "wheelchair heart symbol" for a dorm t-shirt while she and Stevie were undergraduate students together at the University of Illinois. At that time, neither of them had any clue what they had stumbled onto nor fully grasped the potential and meaning of Annie's creation. As a community health major with an interest and passion for disability studies, Annie used the symbol on her shoulder for a permanent tattoo. Friends, family and peers in the disability community were instantly drawn to her new tattoo, and many even got it themselves. The potential behind the symbol was clear!
Annie soon thereafter moved to Chicago after graduation to pursue independent living and a PhD in disability studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago. There, she found her calling in life to be an advocate and leader in the community. Stevie graduated at the same time to work a full-time job with investments and part-time jobs in the local music scene. They both knew that eventually they wanted to combine forces to make a difference behind Annie's "wheelchair heart symbol", but was unsure how and when.
The first big step was in 2007 when they incorporated 3E Love, LLC. and legally protected the symbol. The future plan was to move-in together and take it full-time after Annie completed her studies. In the meantime, 3E Love was a placeholder for a future neither understood, but the motto and corporate mission were ironed out in the meantime and t-shirts were sold at events to keep the company afloat. Things were going as planned – t-shirts were selling well and Annie was making huge strides with her education and advocacy work.
Then in January of 2009, an unexpected tragedy occurred when Annie went into the hospital for a simple procedure but had complications that led to infection and her eventual passing. She died at the age of 24 and left behind friends to wonder not only why, but also what could have been. Annie's future was bright and her work in advocacy had only just begun, and 3E Love had not even taken off yet.
Driven by the support and love of family, friends and the Chicago disability community, Stevie decided to continue the plan without his little sister. He knew that it would be so much more difficult without her charisma, passion for advocacy and disability studies education, but he sought to do his best to spread her symbol and accompanying message to embrace, educate, empower and love life.
Annie had already done all the difficult work, to create the powerful symbol and message and generate the movement and momentum behind it. All he had to do was take his experience in marketing, music apparel sales and internet social networking and put it to work for 3E Love. Annie created the product, so now he had to sell it and expand upon it!
With the help of Facebook and disability-related expos across the country, Stevie was able to quickly spread the word about 3E Love. Less than two years and thousands of miles later, the company has sold tens of thousands of items to customers in all 50 states and over 20 countries. The response to the symbol and Stevie's efforts have been nothing but positive, pushing him to do more and more. The company has dozens of products and controls production and distribution from start to finish. Having the ability to make all of the products has allowed Stevie the flexibility to offer 3E Love products at lower pricing to fundraising groups, customize them for events, and even screen-print for others.
Today, the warehouse is stocked and Stevie has a fire lit under him to make 2012 a huge year for disability awareness through an even stronger push behind Annie's vision! But, he knows he cannot accomplish Annie's goals alone. For 3E Love to be successful, others need to believe in the symbol and message and join him on the journey. Although Annie and Stevie's names may be all over the paperwork, the long-term vision was always and will always be to create an all-inclusive disability social media and marketing company where everyone is welcome to join them.
Great things take time. Great things require help from everyone. And great things can be a lot of fun.