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Wauwatosa Man Shows Love To 'MKESSENTIAL' Workers, One T-Shirt At A Time

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Courtesy of Ashley Bequest-Roeder
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Staff at the Wisconsin Children's Hospital emergency room sport their MKESSENTIAL t-shirts.

Who and what is essential? While people in health care are working tirelessly to combat the spread of COVID-19, they've also shared the spotlight with workers we often take for granted: people working at the grocery store, mail carriers, janitors, and countless others that are doing essential work so we can continue to have what we need.

Thousands of people across the United States have put their creativity to use to help make masks and other personal protection equipment to show their appreciation for essential workers. One Wisconsinite decided the best way he could contribute was by designing a T-shirt.

Brice Smith is the founder of my MKE apparel, a T-shirt business he runs out of his Wauwatosa home's basement in his spare time while being a stay at home dad. What originally started as a way to make creative local designs for his son has turned into something much bigger.

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Credit my MKE apparel
The "MKE" portion of the T-shirt is inspired by the People's Flag of Milwaukee and the overall design mirrors a governmental stamp "to make it more official," says Smith.

Smith's latest design is the MKESSENTIAL T-shirt. He's is creating them at cost to help show appreciation and recognize all of the essential workers in Milwaukee. So far he's made more than 400 — and he doesn't plan to stop anytime soon.

"I realized that this is a way in which I could help [essential workers]," says Smith. "I couldn’t necessarily keep them safe, but I could show them support and to basically help boost their morale and to show them that they’re appreciated, and also to help create a sense of solidarity and pride." 

He says the design naturally "rolled together." The "MKE" portion of the shirt is inspired by the People's Flag of Milwaukee and the overall design mirrors a governmental stamp "to make it more official," according to Smith. 

"It's been so cool to see the effect that this shirt seems to have on the people who wear it," he says. "And it's an incredible feeling to know that you're able to give people something that they can kind of embody and project to the world the sense of who they are."

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Credit Photos courtesy of Brice Smith
Brice Smith models a shirt design with his sons Gideon (left) and Ernie. Smith's first shirt he made had a Hop design on it for Gideon since he couldn't find one anywhere else.

"I don't necessarily see myself as being in the T-shirt business per se, but more so the 'do good' business."

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Credit my MKE apparel
Food service workers show off their MKESSENTIAL T-shirts on the job. This photo was taken before the CDC recommended wearing masks in public.

"I don't necessarily see myself as being in the t-shirt business per se, but more so the 'do good' business," Smith adds. 

Making the MKESSENTIAL T-shirts has been both impactful and educational for Smith. He's heard from many people who are essential that normally don't get a lot of recognition. 

Smith hopes that as people wear the shirt, they can help share their stories with others to reinforce how connected we all are. 

"We've got so many people out there who are just essential to caring for our city and all of us, and it's nice to help educate people about what that means," he says.

Hear the voices of Milwaukee's essential workers: 

mkessential_memos.mp3
Jen, Katie, Tess, Tod and Ashley from Milwaukee talk about why they got MKESSENTIAL T-shirts and what it means to them to be "essential."

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.