Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
They say clothes make the man, but in 3E Love's case, clothing has made the family and exploded a global mission of awareness. 3E Love is a disability awareness clothing line by siblings Annie and Stevie Hopkins along with their close family & friends. The mission of the company is simple; to create and market products and services that embrace living life no matter the obstacles, and by doing so, educate society and empower those with disabilities to love life.
The journey of 3E Love began in 2004 when Annie Hopkins created the “International Symbol of Acceptance” depicting a wheelchair stick figure (similar to what we see across the U.S. on parking space signs) with the wheel replaced by a heart shape. The symbol was created for a dorm t-shirt while Annie and Stevie were undergraduate students together at the University of Illinois.
Neither of them had any clue what they had stumbled across nor had they completely wrap their minds around the full the potential of Annie’s brainchild. As a community health major with an interest and passion for disability studies, Annie put the symbol on her shoulder as a tattoo and personal symbol of acceptance of herself as a woman with a disability. Friends, family and peers were instantly drawn to the symbol, too.
Annie spread her educational wings and her message of disability acceptance to Chicago after graduation to pursue a PhD in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She found her calling to be an advocate for social awareness. Stevie, her brother, graduated at the same time to multi-task success at a full-time job with investments and part-time jobs in the local music scene. They both knew that eventually they would partner to create a movement around Annie’s “wheelchair heart symbol”, but they weren’t sure at first how to set that dream into full spin.
In 2007, they incorporated 3E Love, LLC and wisely trademarked the symbol. The future plan was to room together and make it a full-time mission to spread their message of “Embrace. Educate. Empower.” All the while, Annie would complete her studies. In the meantime, 3E Love was the foundation for a future yet to unfold. T-shirts were sold at events to keep the company moving forward. Thankfully things grew as planned. T-shirts were selling well and Annie was making huge strides with her education and advocacy work.
Then in January of 2009, Annie passed away unexpectedly after going into the hospital for a simple procedure. She had complications that led to a deadly infection. Annie died at the age of 24. Annie’s future was bright and the first layer of her work in advocacy was just revealing itself. 3E Love had not bloomed into its realization of success -- yet.
After Annie's passing, it was Stevie’s turn to use his array of marketing, music apparel sales and internet social networking knowledge and put it to work for 3E Love’s success.
Driven by the support and love of family, friends and the Chicago community, Stevie carried the plans he had with his sister to fruition. Stevie, friends Eric and Chris, and mother Leslie carried the torch forward. The mission of the company is simple: to create and bring to market products and services that embrace living life no matter the obstacles, and by doing so, educate society and empower those with disabilities to love life. Stevie knew that it would be difficult, but he put all his passion in doing his best to spread Annie’s profound symbol and accompanying message to embrace, educate, empower and love life.
A little over a year later, 3E Love has sold countless items – t-shirts, hoodies, bags, stickers and buttons – to people all over the world and it continues to grow by leaps and bounds. A few Facebook advertisements and some seasonal promotions help Stevie grow an Internet community over 7,000, including people with and without disabilities who relate to Annie’s symbol and call for social acceptance of the disability life experience.
Today, the warehouse is fully stocked and Stevie is in search of a new warehouse space to expand 3E Love's oferrings. Still, for 3E Love to be continually successful, others need to believe in the symbol’s meaning and join him on the journey. Although Annie and Stevie’s names are connected deeply at the 3E Love’s foundation, the long-term vision is to create an all-inclusive disability social media and marketing company where everyone voice is heard.
At 3E Love, they continue Annie's legacy of embracing diversity, educating the community and empowering each other while empowering others to be the best they can be in the world, with and without disabiltiies. 3E Love is all about loving life and yourself to the fullest.