America's attention has been captured by the worldwide response to the George Floyd murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. Black Lives Matter protests have flowered worldwide. And businesses are taking the opportunity to make shows of support for the movement. In this environment, it wasn't surprising that Project 615 would launch a t-shirt in honor of the moment. What took some by surprise was that the release of this t-shirt sparked a number of ex-employees and previously associated companies to report a history of racist and sexist behavior in the company's leadership, which is also reflected in reviews of the company on Glassdoor.com.
Former Project 615 employee April Kirby took to Instagram on June 3, 2020, to write: "I worked at Project 615 back in 2017/2018. During my time there myself and the other employees witnessed a lot of very unprofessional and verbally abusive behavior from the CEO... But let me get to my main point for now. I will not sit quiet while Project 615 sells a T-shirt promoting racial equality when the man behind the company, Derek, told me that my 'love of the African American community made me not the best fit for the brand' and then proceeded to fire me in the next breath." [Read the full post below]
View this post on Instagram
PLEAS PLEASE PLEASE DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE BUYING FROM COMPANIES WHO CLAIM TO TAKE A STAND AGAINST RACISM. Also please take the time to read my post below, especially if you live in Nashville: I worked at Project 615 back in 2017/2018. During my time there myself and the other employees witnessed a lot of very unprofessional and verbally abusive behavior from the CEO. If you need proof of this you can visit their Glassdoor page and read reviews (and read the testimonies in my story and ‼️ highlight from former employees). But let me get to my main point for now. I will not sit quiet while Project 615 sells a T-shirt promoting racial equality when the man behind the company, Derek, told me that my “love of the African American community made me not the best fit for the brand” and then proceeded to fire me in the next breath. When he later called a meeting to tell the employees why I was no longer working there the only person he did not include in the meeting was the only African American employee working that day... that employee was later fired for eating the last Chickfila chicken biscuit that was purchased by the company for the employees and was accused of stealing (this part of the story is second hand knowledge as I was not there to witness it in person, however I was there when Derek called out my love of the African American community and deemed it "better utilized outside of his company"). Please do not give this company your money. There are so many other organization in this city and beyond more deserving of your money. ***Corner to Corner is not a part of Project 615 and as far as I know Corner to Corner is a stand up organization and if you want to support them please do it directly and not through buying a shirt from Project 615.*** **I cannot tag Project directly as I am blocked**
April's post prompted dismay among the company's customers, as well as other former employees to come forward with their own stories (see the gallery at the end of this article for screenshots). Tyler Earles (@earlesdesign) wrote to verify April's post, adding, "After she was let go the owner mentioned tried to bait me into a fist fight in my office solely because I showed support to April by wishing her well. Angelea Presti, who used to work for Project 615, wrote, "After proposing to photograph an African-American man for an ad, I was pulled into the office privately to discuss how my idea was "off brand." Instagram user @julessevt reports she was told April's story when it occurred, and that during her own interview she was made very uncomfortable. April's story, and the comments on her post, reveal perhaps a dozen other individuals supporting her stories or sharing their own.
Project 615 released a statement today denying the charges as being organized by a "terminated former employee":
View this post on Instagram
A message from Project 615
Tyler Earles is among those who have responded directly to Project 615's statement with a statement of his own:
Additionally, those responding to Project 615's statement have pointed to additional issues with the company.
Eric Patton commented on Project 615's post: "One person could be dismissed. But your CEO has multiple complaints and you have deleted comments and will likely delete this one. What about women? What about queer people? Why have you all never made a pride shirt? I am so ashamed to have ever given you all a dime. Derek Evans needs to sell the company and leave town."
Instagram user @h.m.pitts responded to Patton, "they aren’t down with the queers, I tried to get an answer from them years ago on where they stood with regards to the issue, and they refused to answer me. As a queer Nashvillian, it really bums me out..."
Asked about this, April said, "We always asked to print for pride and sell at festivals but he always declined our requests."
In the aftermath of the controversy her post has sparked, I asked April how she felt when seeing this t-shirt and what about this t-shirt prompted her to share her story. She said, "I can't say that I was shocked to see the shirt... While working there anytime something tragic would happen such as Tim Shaw getting ALS, the Waffle House shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, etc., he would call it 'News Jacking' and make us work as fast as possible to create a tshirt/ campaign to 'support the cause,' but in all reality it's evident now that he just wanted to ride the coat tails to promote his business. So I figured that since the BLM movement was finally taking off that he would try to gain from it. I knew I couldn't remain silent once the shirt came out, it just wouldn't be right to let people think they're spending their hard earned money on something good when in reality it's anything but."
Out & About Nashville reached out to Project 615 for comment, but as of the time of publication has received no response.
UPDATE: At 7:45 pm on June 4, 2020, Project 615 added the following update:
View this post on Instagram