Chris Welles never expected to get into the fashion game. But the former executive recruiter’s life changed in 2007 after a summer safari to Kenya with his four children and family friends. Now he’s the self-proclaimed “big rhino” at new Lynnfield pop-up clothing shop American Rhino, whose proceeds benefit Kenyan charities.
“I was a complete whiner! I didn’t want to go in July,’’ he said. “Why leave Boston? But it was one of those life-changing trips. We were sleeping in tents under huge, beautiful skies, seeing amazing animals. It felt like the Wild West.”
Welles and his family were so moved that they decided to give back to the country. They began returning to Kenya to participate in the Rhino Charge, an off-road race in the bush to raise money for the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, a wildlife conservation effort that aims to protect the endangered creatures.
“Think of it as the Pan-Mass Challenge, but you’re in the bush, and you have no idea what you’re doing,” Welles says with a laugh.
To thank their donors, Welles’s son developed American Rhino hats and stickers with a memorable logo: an American flag in the shape of a rhinoceros. The design caught on, and Welles quit his job and began traveling to Nairobi to find manufacturers for a broader line of clothing, including kikoys, brightly colored cotton fabrics that resemble sarongs.
American Rhino now makes hats, belts, hoodies, shorts, totes, and more for men, women, and kids with the recognizable rhino logo. It launched online in 2016 and opened a brick-and-mortar shop at MarketStreet Lynnfield this summer. If all goes well, the shop will remain open through the end of the year.
Proceeds benefit wildlife conservation efforts throughout East Africa. This month, Welles will travel to Kenya once again to outfit rangers in the Maasai Mara National Reserve — charged with protecting rhinos from poachers — with boots, uniforms, backpacks, and other essentials.
“Our clothes really appeal to people who like the socially conscious aspect, while the colors lean toward the preppy New England look, like Vineyard Vines,” Welles says.
Next up? A fund to protect rhino rangers’ families.
“If they get injured in the line of duty, there’s no such thing as disability insurance,” Welles says.Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.