When Eryn Erickson pulled each clean T-shirt out of her mailbox, sent to her by a fan or "family," she returned it with a piece of her heart and a message that reflected such sprayed on its front.
"You are so worth loving."
Familiar enough and different enough, Erickson said.
Erickson, founder of apparel brand "So Worth Loving," thought of her actions as a passion project at the start, not a business. She said she was happy in her job as an art director. Her position was desirable and the company was where she wanted to be.
"When I started dabbling more into [So Worth Loving] and who I am, I ... felt in my bones that there was something even more greater that I was capable of," Erickson said.
After being asked what her aspirations were, she recorded her first EP which led her to two more and a viral presence on social media. Her fans clung to her music, something that Erickson said was personal, vulnerable and true to who she was.
Erickson said, ironically, that she was in awe of how those listening found her music worth their time.
"I always wanted my voice to be used for good, but I didn't know in what facet," Erickson said.
She said she began asking people to send a shirt and she would return it with a message of truth. As time went on, the project began to grow and her followers decided they wanted to buy a shirt, rather than struggle with a post office.
She printed her first shirt with a full-time job and a career in music, unaware of the success she would find in her passion project.
She said she always loved fashion which is why she went the route she did with her clothing and apparel brand. But, the core of her mission settles in the conversation that comes from the shirt.
"While it might be hard to talk about our struggles, it's easy to walk into Target and buy a shirt or a skirt," Erickson said.
Her passion that fueled the project stemmed from her parent's overwhelming love and support, she said. Living in a small town with big personality meant she was judged for going against the grain or challenging the norms.
Erickson's choice to not attend college, even after receiving a four-year scholarship, was a target for criticism as well, but she said she's done everything she could have dreamed of without such experiences. She said she loved the challenge of proving the nay-sayers wrong.
"It just didn't feel right in my gut, and I feel like sometimes we pay attention to what societies pressures are before what our gut is telling us," Erickson said. "Still, I feel like I made the right decision."
Erickson said her parents supported her through those years of self-expression.
Erickson said she remembered her dad saying something that stuck with her to this day. She had begun to gauge her ears and was able to stick a Sharpie pen clean through.
"I wouldn't do that, but that doesn't mean you can't," Erickson's dad said. "That's your way of expressing yourself, and I still think you are beautiful."
Erickson said his love and presence no matter what she was going through helped her through other challenges later in life. She said a toxic relationship picked away at her self-worth and created a sandpaper-like situation with the love she felt from those she trusted and the toxicity of others.
Erickson said self consciously she started So Worth Loving with a connection to her past. She said everyone has their "firsts" that can be so detrimental to their livelihood and leaning into failure and pain, while painstaking hard, can be what helps you move past the past.
After beginning its reign on social media and growing into a business based on self-worth and love, this passion project is about to have its sixth birthday. Her store is located in Atlanta, Georgia, and her products are sold in 50 states and 30 countries.
"The more we start to lean into the pain, the quicker we actually start to grow and are able to heal. From there you find your purpose and move toward it," Erickson said.