This article appears in the February issue of 400 Life.
What began as an inside joke among a few Forsyth County natives has evolved into a brand and slogan to match the whole county.
According to U.S. Census records, the population of Forsyth County was just under 17,000 residents in 1970, which ballooned in the following decades to more than an estimated 225,000 county residents.
“We’re both from here, and when people ask you where you’re from and you say, ‘I’m from Cumming,’ and they’re like, ‘No, where are you really from,’” said Candice Skinner with FoCo Grown, which sells a number of shirts and other products highlighting the county. “We’re like, ‘No, we were born and raised here and our parents and grandparents. So it kind of got to where people were making fun of that and using terms like ‘homegrown.’”
Skinner said she got to talking with longtime friend, Nathan Kennedy, a graphic designer and fellow county native who made the first shirt as an inside joke.
“He said, ‘I’m going to make you a shirt,” she said. “Jokingly, the FoCo shirt, he just sent it to me and was like, ‘Here, you just wear this shirt around town where everybody will know and they don’t have to ask you.’ So, it just kind of started as a funny joke.”
Kennedy said he only planned to have “a handful” of the shirts made, but before long the pair had a brand and an online store to fill orders, all finding out through Facebook and word of mouth.
“We really didn’t want to go into retail. That wasn’t ever the point,” he said. “They got pretty popular, and the more people that saw them, the more people wanted them. It’s just kind of steadily grown.”
To keep up with the “homegrown theme,” some of the shirts feature designs include the phrase “blame it all on my roots,” feature an old barn found in the county and a tractor whose wheels are the Os in FoCo.
“The heritage is very important to us,” Kennedy said. “My family — I’m sure her’s — it goes back generations.”
Each shirt, and the company’s logo, also features a chicken, a nod to the county’s poultry past.
“That’s what built this community is chickens,” Kennedy said. “Tyson’s, chicken houses, farms, American Proteins, it’s all chickens. So, every design has a chicken on it, so that’s the little thing that if you don’t notice it, are on all of them.”
FoCo Grown is neither Skinner nor Kennedy’s fulltime job and other jobs, kids and commitments limit how much time they can invest in the side businesses, but Skinner said when it is time to ship shirts from the online store — originally the only place the shirts were sold — it’s all hands on deck for both families.
Operating chiefly online also gives the company more freedom with following ideas, though the majority of designs are sold for only a limited time.
“You put it out there, try to promote it as much as you can while the store is open, let people order them,” Kennedy said. “You’re not flooding the market.”
The shirts are now available in a handful of local stores, including Planet Tan and Fitness, owned by Michele Charles, also a county native and friends of Skinner and Kennedy.
Charles said the shirts were good sellers and that it had been hard to keep shirts in stock.
“Most of us are proud to live here, even if it’s different now than what it was when we grew up, it’s a great community,” Charles said. “I have people in here all the time that are from places like New Jersey and a lot of other states that are visiting … I had a girl the other day, I was giving her a spray tan while she was here visiting her brother and she said, ‘I just love it here.’ I said, ‘It is a great place to live, what do you like so much about it?’ She said, ‘All the people are so nice.’”
After a successful season selling Christmas-themed shirts, the company will reopen the store with a new design in the spring, and like all those made previously, will celebrate the foundations of the county.
“I grew up on Bethelview Road, so I remember going down Hwy. 141 and it was a two-lane road and there was nothing,” Skinner said. “There were trailer parks and there were no grocery stores and no subdivisions, nothing. When you drive down there now, I think people that have moved in would have a hard time visualizing what that looked like 20, 30 years ago.”
While having a lot of support from friends, family and the community, Kennedy said a kind of response from strangers is his favorite.
“Seeing them out [in public] is the coolest thing,” he said. “People wear them, and we see them all the time.”