How two teens are making a significant impact both locally and worldwide
By Sue Baldani
While most teens were trying to stay busy during the lockdown by playing video games and interacting with others on social media, friends Dillon Elam and Connor Suscha wanted to do more. In July of 2020, they founded Tone 3.
“Tone 3 is a social enterprise focused on connecting as many people as possible to the organizations that make our area as welcoming and compassionate as it is,” says Dillon. “We do this by selling simple, stylish clothing with varying designs that allude to these essential organizations.”
Two-thirds of its profits are used to support six deserving mostly local nonprofits, while one-third goes into brand expansion. “Tone 3 is organized around three ideas that we believe serve as the fundamental motivations behind the majority of charitable acts in the community,” adds Connor. “Hence, all of the organizations we support are either focused on the people we love, this earth we live on, or the ways we can give back to people in need. Put simply – Love, Live, and Give.”
Only 17 years old at the time, they say they knew they lacked both the platform and the expertise to intervene directly in the community and facilitate a positive improvement by themselves. “As a result, we began searching for a way to provide support for the organizations we knew already have considerable impacts, while still having a hand in bettering the community we appreciate so greatly,” says Dillon. “Our search concluded after we settled on selling nonprofit-inspired merchandise, and since then we’ve been sharpening our skills in pursuance of one simple goal – to recognize the most impactful members of our community by giving help to those who need it most.”
They began by selling T-shirts, and their goal was to produce them with a true purpose and also ensure they were comfortable, stylish and would appeal to people of all ages. They also wanted to be responsible stewards of the environment. “We started out with all of our shirts being heavyweight organic cotton, but now we have some made out of recycled materials as well,” says Connor. In addition to T-shirts, Tone 3 has expanded its offering to include pants, fleeces and accessories. And, the entire line is eco-friendly and made in a sustainable way with virtually zero waste.
The logos are on the smaller side, since they don’t want them to overtake the entire items. But, each one is big enough so people will notice it and hopefully ask the wearer about it.
In the beginning, the two friends handled everything themselves – from marketing and buying to ironing on logos (which resulted in a lot of burned fingers as well as T-shirts) and shipping. Now, most of the logos are embroidered by a local company, but they still handle every other aspect of the organization, while also attending college.
When it came time to decide on the organizations to support and partner with, they based their decisions on their virtues of Love, Live, and Give. “For our Love pillar, we chose the Dragonfly Foundation, an organization that aims to support the families of pediatric cancer patients,” says Connor. “We also chose a local company called My Bag My Story. Its founder creates homemade sewn backpacks, duffel bags, and things of that nature, and sells them online. Then, for each one that’s sold, she uses the proceeds to make an identical bag to give to a child in the foster care system. As a foster care mother, she often saw children piling all their belongings into black trash bags and felt it was demeaning.”
Under the pillar Give, they support Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, and the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, which assists the homeless. For its Live pillar, they give to the Coral Restoration Foundation™ and The Audubon Society.
“To know that we have the capacity to create this from one little idea and watch it grow into an organization that’s had the ability to influence the lives of so many people in our area in a positive way, is transformative and humbling,” says Connor.
Adds Dillon, “From something that went from building T-shirts on my bedroom floor to now having boxes full of clothing to ship out is just amazing.”
They would love for more people to wear their clothing and promote their mission. “We are a bridge for these nonprofits, and want to make people aware of their needs,” says Dillon.
To find out more and shop for merchandise, go to https://www.tone3nashville.com/.