'Melon' love spreads to Afton
Brian Keller, of St. Paul, and Zachary Quinn, of Minneapolis, first met in 2012 on the second day of class at the University of St. Thomas.
The two college freshmen received an assignment in their entrepreneurship course to create a self-sustaining business.
“Zach and I really wanted to do something more,” Keller said. “We wanted something that would help more people rather than just ourselves. We just wanted to be able to make an impact.”
That class project eventually turned into a new startup business in Afton called Love Your Melon, which donates a hat to a child with cancer for every hat sold.
“These kids who go through cancer treatment and lose their hair, they want something to wear, something to cover that up and give them a sense of normalcy,” Keller said. “Essentially everyone who buys a hat is a donor.”
In January, Love Your Melon moved into office space in the Afton Press Booksellers building in Afton’s Old Village on St. Croix Trail South.
“It is an amazing fundraising opportunity,” said Tarell Friedley, who owns Afton Press Booksellers. “It’s just fascinating what they’re doing.”
Keller said the space “is starting to come to life.”
“We’re going to start transforming the space we have here into something unique because when we have everything in one place it’s a lot easier to facilitate our distribution,” he said.
They were approached by Friedley about moving into the space while selling Love Your Melon merchandise during Afton Village Holiday.
An idea and a hat
Both Keller and Quinn have personal ties to cancer, which is why they wanted to start a business like Love Your Melon.
“I think everyone knows someone who is going through that,” Keller said. “We wanted to make an impact for those people.”
The concept of donating hats came about after talking to hospitals and learning that they are some of the things that children wanted most.
“I don’t think there’s any way to justify a 7-year-old battling cancer,” Keller said. “There isn’t any way to explain why these kids are going through the hardships that they are.
“These children are some of the most courageous and inspiring individuals and that’s what really motivated us and inspired us.”
Keller and Quinn eventually found a manufacturer in Portland, Ore., to produce their hats, which come in both beanie- and cuffed winter-hat styles.
“We had an idea and one hat,” Keller said, “We sat down in Zach’s kitchen and decided to put our idea on Facebook and see how people would react to it.”
Within hours of launching their online store, Love Your Melon got its first sale.
“So many people grasped onto the idea and wanted to share their story,” Keller said. “It showed us that we had something special here and we could make a difference for a lot of people.”
After being in business for just over a year, Love Your Melon has donated nearly 6,000 hats to hospitals around the country.
Love Your Melon’s primary partnership is with Amplatz Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
Spreading the word
As part of Love Your Melon’s mission, Keller and Quinn embarked on a 26-day bus tour down the East Coast to college campuses in order to spread the word about Love Your Melon.
In addition to their campus visits, Keller and Quinn were also featured on “Good Morning America” and the “Today Show.”
“It was an incredible experience,” Keller said. “We sold out all of our inventory in a day and a half.
“It was really cool to see the amount of people that were inspired and wanted to help these kids.”
Keller said Love Your Melon has some exciting plans for the future including adding baseball hats to their inventory, another bus tour along the West Coast this time and more partnerships.
“We want to create a brand that encourages and inspires other college students to get involved,” he said. “A lot of people would say we’re crazy, and we are, but you have to be a little bit to believe so much in something.
“We want to create the most smiles we can for these kids because every child deserves a hat.”
More information on Love Your Melon, and its online store, can be found at www.loveyourmelon.com.