Father, Son Use Athletic Apparel to Share Gospel
A Virginia father and son have been inspired to start a Christian athletic apparel brand called E6 Apparel. Its mission is to encourage believers to live boldly for Jesus Christ everyday.
Jake Natale has been a competitive baseball player since he was just a little boy.
His passion for the sport is surpassed only by his Christian faith, which he joyfully lives out every day.
"My faith has always been a big part of my life, so to share the greatest part of your life is very important to me, and you know everything that I do and everything that I have is all because of God," Jake said.
Jake's dad, Jerry, said his son has always been passionate about the Gospel and bold about sharing his faith with others.
"He's a kid that was always the one that would share his faith boldly. I remember coaching him as a 13-year-old boy and in the dug out. I'd look over there and he's witnessing, sharing Christ with one of the players," Jerry recalled.
"To display his faith even more publicly - Jake came up with the idea of Christian athletic apparel, with the hope of reaching his athlete peers with the Gospel," he added. "He said, 'Dad, there's a lot of Christian t-shirts out there, but there's no performance gear."
For Jake, it was important that his line was also functional.
"For me, I wanted to wear something that represented my faith, you know, like a cotton t-shirt - you know it's got the Christian message on it - it doesn't do well in the gym so for me I wanted to wear something that performed and you know something I could express my faith with it too," Jake explained.
The line includes t-shirts, hoodies and other sports products with the motto "everyday soldier" taken from Ephesians 6.
"It means you have to fight every day - you know every day's a battle, whether that's spiritual or physical. Playing baseball I had to work out; I had to go to practice - you know - it's everyday so it's the same thing with your faith," Jake explained.
"To stay close in your walk with God you have to be communicating. You have to be in the word and everything everyday. So, that parallel of the everyday soldier just seems to fit perfectly," he added.
It's a message that resonates with 16-year-old Michael Schiavo.
"I was born with Muscular Dystrophy, which causes me to get weaker over time," Schiavo said. "I wear it whenever there's something tough going on - a tough day - I put it on and it helps me to remember."
Schiavo's dad was the very first consumer.
"I've had a few people come up to me and ask me what it's about," his father said. "And we've also used them to try and encourage others."
"I know the very first shirt that I ever bought was for a friend of mine whose daughter had been diagnosed with cancer so I was able to get each of them a shirt and send it to them and it was something that he really remembers and him and his daughters were really encouraged," he added.
Jake and his dad had hoped to get a celebrity endorsement for their sports line but soon discovered Schiavo fit the bill.
"What we've seen about Michael is he's never discouraged. He's always got a smile on his face. He's got tremendous challenges in his life, but yet he remains positive and his faith is so evident and we've just learned to love the spirt of this young man," Jake said.
Schiavo's story is inspiring other "everyday soldiers" around the country while helping to drive sales.
"We're selling, when we go to events we sell thousands. Our online business is picking up on the heels of awareness. People are coming back and wanting shirts. We have a lot of repeat customers. It's a brand that connects at a very deep level for the believer and we're just real happy that folks are coming back and wanting more," Jerry said.
Jake says he's overwhelmed by the success, especially among his peers.
"Yeah, they wear it and next thing I know they're telling me it's their favorite pair of shorts or their favorite shirt which I'm kind of surprised," he said.