When North Braddock native Brandon Grbach scrapped his plans to become a teacher and opened his own business instead, his mother wasn't pleased. Others told him giving up on a college degree during his last semester was "so crazy and so drastic."
But Mr. Grbach said he wanted nothing to fall back on.
"If I complete this degree, it's always going to be a flashing exit sign for me," he said.
Mr. Grbach, 30, said he has always dreamed of being an artist and an entrepreneur; his aunt, a hairdresser, owned her own salon, and his grandfather, a mechanic, ran his own shop.
He said the idea of owning his own business "seemed very American to me."
He was working at a skateboard shop when he realized he could do better -- in terms of both design and quality -- than the clothing that was being sold in the store.
"They weren't nice clothes," he said. "They were just selling a logo to kids that were into that brand."
So he designed a few shirts and started selling them in the shop.
"They sold well because they were just a softer cotton shirt and they fit better," he said.
His company, DeadBuryDead, started in 2005 and based in Elizabeth Township, sells shirts both online and in shops and boutiques. Now, he's using the company's success to help communities in the area where he grew up through a video and social media campaign. He is selling specially designed T-shirts to fund the renovation of a clothing room in North Braddock that provides clothes to more than 100 families every month.
"Before the steel mills closed, Pittsburgh was a thriving place," Mr. Grbach said in a news release. "I wanted to find a way that we can give back this community. They deserve a second chance."
The T-shirt features steel being poured to form the second "d" in Braddock, with the text: "It's heatin up in Braddock Pennsylvania." The shirt sells for $24.99, with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward rebuilding the clothing room, which is in an annex of what used to be Hartman School and is now the Word & Worship Church at 1200 Wolfe Ave. The room is open from 9 a.m. to noon two Saturdays a month.
So far, the campaign has raised $2,100 toward a goal of $10,000 to renovate the clothing room with a drop ceiling, new heating and air conditioning, and a handicapped-accessible restroom.
For the social media campaign, people are encouraged to post online photos of themselves holding signs expressing their wish for a second chance. The winners will receive T-shirts.
One entry reads: "I would have confronted my mom about her alcoholism before it killed her." Another says: "I would have taken my education more seriously."
"We had a lot of really powerful stories," Mr. Grbach said.
Mr. Grbach said he'll plan another campaign to help the Braddock area after the renovations to the clothing room are complete.
"I want to just show that I'm really not anybody special," he said. "I'm just a kid from North Braddock. I'm not some rich CEO who's just writing a check. I saw a need and I acted. If I can do it, you can do it, too."
Annie Siebert: email@example.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.