|September 5, 2013
Kelly Gear aims to inspire and educate
By Alyssa Nenemay
Kelly Camel can be found most Saturdays at the Missoula Market, where he sells his athletic clothing line. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)
MISSOULA — In a sea of stands at the downtown summer market, Kelly Camel spends most Saturday mornings selling his custom athletic gear. Featuring messages like “Enthusiasm” or “Persevere,” Camel’s T-shirts reflect his personal philosophies on life.
As job opportunities became scarce in Missoula, Camel refused to fall victim to a dwindling economy. The 35-year-old teamed up with the local J.O.B.S career development program to create a business plan. “I always wanted to start my own business but didn’t know how to start,” said Camel.
Each T-shirt purchase includes an informational card that features the sign language alphabet and definitions of Kelly’s conditions as well as etiquette lessons. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)
The team developed a plan around Camel’s unique story. Born over three months premature and weighing just over a pound, Camel’s life expectancy was 100 to 1. The infant fought through the odds and at 18 months, Camel was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which is a neurological disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination.
Today, Camel relies on a wheel chair for movement. Because he is nearly deaf, Camel also relies on signed language to a point in order to communicate. In spite of his physical impairments, Camel lives independently, works with the University of Montana’s Basketball team, and now he started his own athletic clothing line.
Kelly Gear’s T-Shirts include inspirational words like “Persevere” or “Enthusiasm,” which are based on Camel’s personal philosophies. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)
“The team came up with the idea to incorporate inspirational words into the T-shirts because of the obstacles Kelly overcame. Kelly chooses the words and designs he would like to use,” said Camel’s mother Rhonda Swaney.
While the J.O.B.S team worked on marketing, Camel traveled to various sporting good stores to compare materials, shapes, and designs. “I knew what I wanted,” said Camel. “I knew I wanted to use smooth fabric that was comfortable to move around in.”
Although he can’t play sports, Camel has a significant love for the game, which is why he wanted to develop sports gear. Favoring basketball, Camel spends a great deal of time watching sports on ESPN, playing sport themed video games, and following the success of his favorite teams or players.
Because Kelly relies to point on a sign language for communication, his merchandise includes the sign language alphabet. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)
Coming from a family heavily saturated in athleticism, Camel said he knows he would be a force to be reckoned with if he could play. “I know I would have been a good athlete or now that I’m older, a good coach. I can see plays,” he said.
Once the business plan was in place, Camel applied for and received a grant through the Vocation Rehabilitation department to fund his first line of T-shirts called “Enthusiasm,” for men and women and “Kelly Gear” was born. Camel said he realized his success when he began seeing his product being worn throughout Missoula. “It makes me happy to see people wearing my T-shirts,” he said.
Kelly Camel, a CS&KT member, is a 35-year-old entrepreneur who successfully launched his own clothing line “Kelly Gear.” (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)
With a purchase of a Kelly Gear T-shirt, each customer also receives a rubber bracelet and a card that gives more information on cerebral palsy, hearing impairments, etiquette, and the sign language alphabet. “They wanted to include information on Kelly’s condition to educate people,” said Swaney.
Today Camel’s T-shirt lines have expanded, offering two new men and women designs: “Believe” and “Persevere.” Kelly Gear can be found at the downtown Missoula Market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. or online at: www.kellygear.com. Kelly Gear can also be found on Facebook; click here.