Catholic women send the message of charity through T-shirts


Ista-TeesTwo Catholic women are hoping their homegrown T-shirt business can help spread some Catholic values.

Amy Knapp of Greer and Marlee Calloway of North Augusta started Ista Tees,, as a way to make some extra money and help their community. Since January, they’ve sold more than 300 shirts to people across the country.
The two best friends met as students at Clemson University in 1986. They kept in touch over the years as they started careers, married, had children, and became active in their parishes.

Knapp is a member of Blessed Trinity Church in Greer and is a volunteer with Engaged Encounter. Calloway attends Our Lady of Peace Church in North Augusta.

In 2009, the women were trying to come up with ways to make some extra money, and after brainstorming, decided to design T-shirts.

“I had been praying steadily that God would give me some ideas to help support the family,” Knapp said.

Calloway has worked in interior design and took on the duty of choosing fonts and colors, while Knapp focused on coming up with slogans.

They chose the increasingly popular suffix -ista as their hook. It designates something a person is passionate about, and is used commonly on television and in magazines through the term fashionista.

The concept is simple: take a word that describes what people like or believe, add -ista and an evocative graphic, and print the design on a comfortable T-shirt. The result is a fun, wearable way for people to show their favorite interests or causes. Knapp’s son, Jacob, age 19, does the illustrations.

Amy Knapp of Greer and Marlee Calloway of North Augusta began a T-shirt business as a way to make extra money, and a portion of each sale goes to charity. (Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss)What makes Ista Tees different from other companies is that part of the money from every sale goes directly to charity. When they purchase a shirt online, customers can choose from a menu of different charities and select which one they’d like to support.

The list currently includes Catholic Charities and groups that advocate for the mentally ill, among others.

“We have a need to help people,” Calloway said. “It fits in with our Catholic beliefs.”

So far, they have designed shirts that pay tribute to academics, hobbies, ideas, literary pursuits and sports: math-ista, fiction-ista, soccer-ista. Coffee lovers can choose brew-ista. Other selections include shirts for cheerleaders, high school band members, and lovers of that extremely popular series of vampire books, Twilight-ista. One of the most popular shirts pays tribute to a food passion. The slogan? Bacon-ista.

Knapp said ideas for shirts have come from friends, relatives, and people who send suggestions through e-mail. Her niece came up with a slogan for engaged people, Taken-ista, with a drawing of a diamond ring in the middle.

Knapp and Calloway are both concerned about pro-life issues and wanted to offer a shirt for others who shared their beliefs. The result? A grey shirt with the burgundy slogan, Respect-ista, short for “Respect Life.”

“This is a way for people who support life to show what they believe in a simple, concise way,” Knapp said.

Calloway hopes the slogan will lead others to learn about the many facets of the pro-life message.

“It’s a calm way to put the issue out there,” she said. “I would hope people might see the shirt and feel comfortable asking the person wearing it what Respect-ista means.”

Knapp and Calloway are currently looking for pro-life charities and ministries they can support through sales of their products.

Both women say prayer fuels their business. Although they communicate mostly by computer or phone, they often attend adoration and Mass when they’re together.

“When we get bogged down, we’ll often stop and say, ‘Wait, we didn’t pray!’” Knapp said. “We believe God has been instrumental in everything we’ve done. We’ve been leaning heavily on God through the whole thing. The important thing is to allow God to speak to you about what you should be doing. I never would have thought I’d be selling T-shirts, but often if you pray God will bring you to an unfamiliar idea that ends up working.”