Seven hundred fifty beanies donated to homeless shelters, $2,000 donated to three charities, and a new line just in time for its one year anniversary, Bushwick Yacht Club is distinct in that it is an art collective and streetwear brand that prioritizes giving back.

Bushwick Yacht Club guarantees that for every item sold, a blank one will be donated to the charity chosen for that collection or up to 25% of profits will be contributed — a much larger percentage than most other charity-focused companies. 

Donations for the most recent collection will go to Breaking Ground, a homeless transitional services organization. 

Behind the humanitarian focused brand is Aaron Nessel, a Bushwick resident of four years who is on a mission to donate apparel through sales of limited edition, collaborative streetwear. Nessel drives the business from his Bushwick apartment, where he solely manages the outreach to artists, marketing and research of organizations that align with his ideals.

Nessel spent years city-hopping while working in sales. He took the 2020 lockdown to venture back to his creative upbringing, inspired by his mother who is a painter still living in his hometown of Boston. He created the apparel brand from an intrinsic desire to creatively give back to a community that, he affirms, offers so much to its residents. 

“It’s so inclusive. It’s so multicultural,” Nessel said, excitedly explaining his love for and connection with Bushwick. 

“It’s really important for me to be able to give back to the people who have lived in the neighborhood before me. Obviously Bushwick is a gentrifying place. And to be a part of that gentrifying force, it’s important for me to be able to give back to the people who are affected by that.” 

Nessel started with 100 beanies. His initial thought was he’d sell 50 to family and friends and have 50 to give as holiday gifts for the years to come. Through savvy social-media connections, wheat-pasted posters, and stickers tagged throughout Brooklyn, Nessel said he then watched stunned as sales spiked throughout the season.

“Fast forward three or four months from there, we had sold 750 beanies. I spent the whole winter of 2020 running to the hat store and running to the tailor and keeping up with the demand.”

The demand is that of a classic contemporary streetwear brand, influenced by the clean and simple 90s skater aesthetic. The designs include crew neck sweatshirts that display a bold “Bushwick Yacht Club” across the chest and soft beanies with the classic box logo, available in multiple colors.

A Bushwick Yacht Club sticker seen on Troutman Avenue. (Vanessa Hock)

Nessel explained that the name is intended to be “nonsensical and thought provoking,” something that would make people question and search the company. With a curious name, Bushwick Yacht Club is eclectic in that it defies its description; while yacht clubs are notorious for elitism, Bushwick’s Yacht Club is a brand that endeavors for empowerment of its disadvantaged neighbors.

Donations have gone to SCO homeless shelters, Bushwick Ayuda Mutua and North Brooklyn Mutual Aid. The third collection, released last June, donated 25% of sales to Sweet Generation’s RISE, a Bushwick-based non-profit that hires and trains youth from marginalized communities who have limited access to employment opportunities. 

Despite the impressive growth in its one year, Nessel said the brand is not for his personal financial fulfillment, which he has proven this past year. In the face of mainstream streetwear designed for high revenue, he is opposed to creating a global enterprise and instead is intrinsically compelled to contribute to Bushwick.

“Let’s say, in five years, I’ve donated 1,000 hats, 1,000 sweatshirts and 1,000 t-shirts. I break even but I’m able to give back to the community — that’s all that matters,” Nessel said. “That’s net positive for me.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a percentage of profits are donated in addition to 1:1 item donations. In fact, the donations are either 1:1 to shelters or a percentage of profits, not both. The change was made at 5:22 on Oct. 27.

Featured image: Vanessa Hock

Apparel photos courtesy of Bushwick Yacht Club

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