Personalised merchandise helps to raise awareness of PTSD999, a social enterprise that supports members of the emergency services and military who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder

PTSD999 was formed in 2015 by long-term friends and former soldiers Gary Hayes and Simon Durance. Both had lived with the effects of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) for many years, but Gary was left with complex PTSD following his work with the British Transport Police during the London Underground terrorist attack in 2005. Unfortunately, Gary’s mental health deteriorated to the point that he lost his job. As a result of this experience he worked with Simon to create PTSD999 – the only organisation in the UK that supports all members of the emergency services, both serving and retired, voluntary, family and friends. It’s completely independent and funded solely by donations and branded merchandise.

“Our merchandise range provides a level of income that assists us to maintain our commitments of providing treatment,” explains Darren Stokes, (voluntary) communications, merchandise, events and fundraising officer at PTSD999. “We are just starting out on our venture into merchandise but we hope that, in the future, it will be capable of providing much more financial support for our work.” As well as providing valuable revenue, decorated clothing also plays an important role in raising awareness. 

“We ensure that our team wears our personalised merchandise at every event we attend,” says Darren. “We provide all fundraisers with merchandise to wear for events and training and, as a result, we’ve been able to reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers.

“Our fundraisers have worn our merchandise on ITN News and, more recently, PC Leon McLeod QGM wore it when he was interviewed by Gabby Logan for the BBC’s coverage of the London Marathon. Photographs have also appeared on social media and in large news publications, such as Metro.”

Former Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton in a PTSD999 T-shirt during the video shoot of the organisation’s Christmas single

PTSD999’s current clothing and merchandise supplier is local company Sigma in Ely, Cambridgeshire. “We wanted a supplier that could bring some innovation and develop a brand for our organisation,” says Darren. “We had no previous experience of creating a merchandise range and so the experience of the team at Sigma was invaluable to us.” When deciding which garments to sell, PTSD999 asked volunteers, who work closely with their target audience, to find out which items would be most popular. “Our communications officer works with the team at Sigma to generate ideas and designs and then produce prototypes,” explains Darren. “These are presented to the co-founders and we then offer our suggestions to our social media followers. They ultimately make the final decision as we produce the merchandise for them.”

Developing a brand

Quality, cost and sizing are important considerations, too. “Quality is very important to us as we want to portray our organisation in a professional way. We want our customers to wear our garments with pride, and for them to be proud they need to be happy with their purchases,” says Darren. “Our size range was a key factor as we needed products that went from XS to 4XL with unisex, lady-fit and children’s options. Cost does have some bearing on decisions as the greater the profit margin, the more treatment we are able to provide for our service users.”

Darren says that Sigma recommended the SG garment range (from BTC Activewear) due to its wide selection of styles and sizes, including those for women and children. A PTSD999 logo label is stitched into the bottom of the garments, and it is also planning to replace the inner labels with its own branded labels as it expands. Currently, Sigma uses a range of decoration techniques for PTSD999, including screen printing, vinyl printing and embroidery – and, in many cases, more than one technique on the same garment. “We believe that embroidery gives the garments a professional finish, and so we often choose this for our teams at corporate events and on our polo shirts and jumpers,” explains Darren.

For those who would like to supply a similar organisation to PTSD999, Darren believes that trust is key: “We relied heavily on the open and honest working relationship we have with our suppliers. They didn’t pressure us into growing our brand too quickly, although this may have increased their own profits and sales. They listened to what we wanted, but also gave alternative options and explained the reasoning behind their recommendations. This allowed us to make informed decisions.”