Love Your Melon will open its first retail concept store June 1. But it won't be open all the time.
The Minneapolis-based maker of stocking hats and other trendy apparel sold with a charitable promise will take over the North Loop space recently vacated by the Filson and Shinola brands at Washington and 3rd avenues.
It will be the company's first permanent store but not a traditional one.
"We'll have all-new product in limited editions, and we'll only be open once or twice a month," said Zachary Quinn, co-founder and president of Love Your Melon.
During the rest of the time, the store will be used by influencers and celebrities for photo and video shoots. "You see it in New York and L.A. a lot," Quinn said. "We've always needed a showroom to do special events and to create new concepts, a physical location where influencers work with the brand."
Quinn and Brian Keller started the business nearly six years ago as part of a University of St. Thomas entrepreneurship class. From the beginning, the company's mission was to improve the lives of kids battling cancer.
Love Your Melon started by donating a hat to a child battling cancer for each hat sold. After achieving the goal of giving a hat to each of the 45,000 children battling cancer in the United States, it set a new goal of donating half of its after-tax profits to pediatric cancer research and to the support of children with cancer and their families. The company has donated more than $4.3 million and 125,000 hats to date.
Quinn wanted to include a charitable element from the start, but he and Keller hadn't chosen one yet. Then they met Zach Sobiech, a 17-year-old who battled bone cancer and became a YouTube sensation with his song "Clouds." "He was the first kid to have one of our beanies. I was fortunate to have known him for six months before he passed away," Quinn said.
The company maintains a high profit margin by holding down the cost of finding customers. Instead of traditional advertising, it uses social marketing on Facebook and Instagram, nationwide tours, and more than 13,000 student "ambassadors" on 840 college campuses.
The company also has partnered with pro sports teams such as the Minnesota Twins, the Wild, Timberwolves and St. Paul Saints. For the recent Super Bowl, Love Your Melon provided the beanies worn by the 10,000 official volunteers of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.
The company stitched nearly 1 million beanies last year, employing 30 full-time workers in Minneapolis and 170 other people around the country. Employees also visit hospitals across the country dressed in superhero costumes, dropping off hats to kids fighting cancer.
It expects to make more than 1 million beanies annually going forward. The hats, made from cotton sourced in the U.S. and India, are made with more than 50 manufacturing partners, including Minnesota Knitting Mills in Mendota Heights, Red Wing Shoes and Softline Brand Partners in the North Loop.
Prices for the hats, which come in hundreds of colors, range from $30 to $50. All come with the iconic "Love Your Melon" patch on the front, usually made of Red Wing shoe leather. Patches made of metal or fabric also have been added by request.
To make the products less seasonal, the company plans an athletic line this spring, including summer knitwear. The brand also launched in Canada, the U.K. and Australia late last year.
Quinn said last year that the goal was to become a full apparel brand. "We're on track to obtaining that," he said. Next fall, the line will be expanded to include synthetic and cashmere fibers, as well as scarves and mittens.
The company also expects to move its offices from the Capella Tower downtown to space above the store.
"Our employees live there and are moving there," Quinn said, referring to the North Loop neighborhood.