Kentucky for Kentucky dropped its first Facebook post on April 27, 2011, and a whole lot of awesomeness followed. On the occasion of our fifth anniversary, here's a look at how it all started and where we're headed. Hell yeah. Let's do it.
"We should crowdfund a Super Bowl commercial for Kentucky."
That was in early 2011. For most the crazy talk would have stopped right there. But for Whit Hiler and Griffin VanMeter, a couple of young Lexingtonians with a penchant for making weirdness a reality, the line between crazy talk and a business meeting is a little blurrier.
You know what? On second thought …
"Hell yeah. Let's do it."
By the time the snow had melted, they had a logo, a Facebook page and a name: Kentucky for Kentucky. Finally, all that pent-up Kentucky pride had a place to go, and fans flocked to this new community to express their love and admiration for the Commonwealth's people, places and products.
On April 27, 2011, Kentucky for Kentucky announced its presence to the world with its first Facebook post: an album of iconic Kentucky images, including Col. Harland Sanders, the Derby field rounding the first turn at Churchill Downs, and our state flag.
The post received exactly one like. From Griffin's wife.
Before long, however, folks began flocking to the page to express their love and admiration for the Commonwealth's people, places and products.
That September, Kentucky for Kentucky launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund a Super Bowl commercial to celebrate Kentucky.
Although the commercial ultimately didn't pan out, it got people talking and earned positive press all over the world. A LOT of press. And it got disenfranchised Kentuckians reacquainted with an attitude that anything is possible. We can tell our own story, and we don't need anyone's permission.
"Hell yeah. Let's do it."
It was like our first unofficial motto.
You want to make a shirt with Colonel Sanders riding a giant chicken? Hell yeah. Let's do it.
You want to make a candle that smells like a KFC Double Down? Hell yeah. Let's do it.
You want to write a story about a psychic in the middle of nowhere? Hell yeah. Let's do it.
It's that kind of mindset that's made us different from the get-go. We're risk takers. At a time when Kentucky pride meant UK basketball tickets and a blue windbreaker, we crafted a statewide movement around a deeper, more genuine affection for our home.
We love Kentucky — all of it — and we're not going to shut up about it.
We celebrated the good. Acknowledged the bad. Touted our accomplishments and laughed at our mistakes. We knew our message wouldn't resonate with everyone. We knew a lot of people might be offended. But it didn't matter. Because we knew that, positive or negative, stereotypes are stereotypes and that's not what we're about. We love Kentucky — all of it — we're not going to shut up about it.
As time went on, more and more people joined us. We became a hub for awesome, crowdsourced Kentucky information. For once, there was a place where Kentucky's contributions to the world were collected and easily shareable. We learned tons of amazing stuff about our state that we never knew before. It led to another one of those climactic moments.
"You know, Kentucky really does kick ass. That should be our state slogan."
Hell yeah. Let's do it.
We collaborated with friends and launched our first website. We produced a video. We made some sexy shirts, prints and stickers. And we hit the road to shout what would become our battle cry: Kentucky Kicks Ass.
We were on a rogue mission to rebrand Kentucky and, even if the powers that be didn't appreciate it, a whole lot of real Kentuckians did. So much so that more than a few of them took us up on our offer to get a free tattoo of the new alt-slogan. You ever hear of anyone getting an "Unbridled Spirit" tattoo? Probably not.
All that was around 2013. Cut to the present day, and the momentum continues. We've graduated from tiny makeshift offices to a 12,000-square-foot warehouse at at 720 Bryan Ave. in Lexington we call The Fun Mall. We have a network of kick-ass retail partners across the state. We went from no employees at all to a full-time team of 11 badass creative professionals and a network of local freelancers. We launch at least one new product every week.
And through it all we've stayed true to our roots. We work with our talented friends and neighbors to make sure that whatever we put out there is totally unique (even if it is a little weird sometimes). We do all of our apparel printing in house. And we give back. We've never said no to a non-profit needing gear for a silent auction. We sponsor cool local events like the Night Market. We back Kickstarter campaigns and other Kentucky risk takers. We sponsored and produced a truly kick-ass Louis Armstrong mural in downtown Lexington created by Odeith. We consider it our responsibility. After all, there was a time when we were just a crazy idea, too.
And look at us now. Y'ALL sweatshirts as far as the eye can see. Jennifer Lawrence in our tees. A mountain of positive Kentucky press free of charge and a whole mess of imitators trying to cop our style. We don't make a habit out of bragging, but we're pretty damn proud of how far we've come. What was once called "a constituency of no one" has now swelled into a six-figure fan base that can't be ignored.
So what's next for Kentucky for Kentucky? For starters, this new website you're on. Nice right? We're going to use this beautiful thing to make sure that the Kentucky story gets told loud and proud by the people who are living it. That means more original articles, photography and videography. And it means a brighter spotlight on our always-expanding line of Kentucky-proud products.
We want to create more jobs. Make our Fun Mall a must-see destination. Host and attend more awesome events. And, with your help, change Kentucky for the better.
Is it going to be easy?
Is it possible?
Hell yeah. Let's do it.
Do you have a unique Kentucky story to share? Interested in contributing to KYforKY.com as we continue to celebrate the people, places and things that make our state great? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. We'd love to hear from y'all!