The lobby atmosphere shifts a little when Jonathan Fowler walks in. The ever-professional receptionists perk up when they see him. You can hear it in their voices before he even says hello. He’s THAT guy—the one who makes instant friends with everyone in the office and would be the first one to give you (in this case a handmade) shirt off his back.
By day, Jonathan is part of the educational arm of Redstone Federal Credit Union, going around teaching financial responsibility lessons to churches and schools. But by night, he’s the brain behind Fow Wow shirts, the hilariously “punny” tees that elicit belly laughs from shoppers at University Pickers.
Jonathan spent some of his childhood in Huntsville—his family moved to Dothan for the seven years before he went to high school. And when they came back, he realized he didn’t know anyone in his freshmen class.
“As a freshman at a brand new school, you’re that kid in the corner, and I’m always that weird kid in the corner anyways,” Jonathan said. “You learn to hang out with the kids that no one ever hung out with.”
It all ties together when you mix his personality that reaches out to make anyone smile with his self-described, “random dad joke with funny, punny stuff with hey, my hometown” style.
After college, like so many (256) natives, Jonathan vowed to head out into the great beyond to find adventure outside of Madison County. His plan was to go to Colorado with one of his friends and live the ski bum life.
Things took a different, albeit happy, turn when he met his now-wife, Caley, a Grissom grad raised in the heart of Huntsville, and they decided to keep their roots here while they travel around the country.
On one of their trips, they went to Asheville, North Carolina, a city known for its devotion to all things local. When he came home, he realized Huntsville didn’t have that hometown love he saw in other places. So he decided to blend some of his talents, his God-given sense of humor and several other passions to give Huntsville a fun way to show city pride.
The t-shirt business wasn’t a far stretch. See, Jonathan has long been a fan of fun t-shirts. He proudly boasts that one time he found an original Journey shirt at a thrift store. This was one from a concert—not one that was mass produced once trendy stores decided they weren’t going to stop believing.
When he was a child, Jonathan was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and grew up drawing insulin-related puns on sticky notes to make his friends laugh. As an adult, he took that same sense of humor and created Fow Wow.
“I want people to love their state and love Huntsville in particular,” Jonathan said. “That’s why I started this, just to show some love to our state and for people to wear something and be like, ‘Ah, that’s my city. That’s my state. That’s where I’m from. That’s my hometown.’ ”
It wasn’t long before his designs got noticed by local businesses, including University Pickers, a company that exclusively sells products from local craftsmen.
I Like Big Spring Ducks
Once Jonathan decided to start making shirts, he took a few screen-printing classes at a local print shop. Then he hit Craigslist and other second-hand websites to find the equipment he needed to get started.
Now he works on shirts at night, after his two daughters have gone to bed, because being a father comes first for Jonathan. Also, because he learned a hard lesson when he laid some shirts out to dry in the play room and came back to find them covered with tiny finger and footprints and a guilty-looking toddler sitting in the middle.
While Huntsville history and surroundings provide most of the inspiration for Fow Wow, there’s another element that comes into play: music. There’s always a song playing in Jonathan’s head.
Songs vary from 1950s tunes to some newer songs, and often it comes out in his work—although tamer than some original lyrics. For example, there’s a nod to Sir Mix-A-Lot with the shirt that declares, “I like Big Spring Ducks and I cannot lie,” or another homage to Snoop Dogg with a baby onesie: “I got my mind on my mommy and my mommy on my mind.”
Remember, he is the father of two toddler girls. If you want to be even more impressed, know that he also creates designs with a 130-pound bulldog running around. And yes, shirts sometimes get paw prints on them. You can buy those from his oopsy pile—if you want a shirt with a story behind it.
While business was good from the beginning, Jonathan had no way of knowing his next idea—a mix of Huntsville folklore and philanthropy—would go viral.
Whisk You Were Here
Jonathan had been thinking about doing a church-related shirt for a while—after all, he is the son of a pastor living in the middle of the Bible Belt—but it took a few rough hits for the idea to solidify. One of his longtime friends died after a battle with alcoholism and another one who had previously fought addiction died in a car accident. It made Jonathan start thinking about his own faith and what he could do to share it with other people.
He wanted to find a way that wouldn’t be too in-your-face but would also get enough attention to do some good.
“You don’t want to be like, ‘Oh look at me,’ because of the way people look at (Christians) from the outside,” Jonathan said. “If they only knew that we were broken, normal people who are funny and random and weird.”
Shortly after his two friends died, Jonathan got the idea to showcase Eggbeater Jesus, the well-known landmark on the side of First Baptist Church of Huntsville, on a shirt and donate profits from that design to His Way, an area nonprofit that helps men overcome addiction.
Jonathan took a photo of himself wearing the shirt, standing in front of the mural, and he posted it to the Fow Wow Facebook page where it quickly went viral. To date, the image has been shared almost 500 times and seen by 80,000 Facebook users.
He dropped 80 of his new shirts off at University Pickers, but it wasn’t long before they were calling him. The shirts sold out, and he had a waiting list. In just two months, Jonathan was able to write a $2,000 check to His Way.
“They’re still my big seller, and the only reason I think that that happened was because God saw that (we) put (His) son on a shirt in a non-negative manner, and (we’re) showing some love to a Christ-centered organization,” Jonathan said.
If you’re looking for a way to represent Huntsville or want a way to buy clothes that supports a local nonprofit, head over to University Pickers and check out the Fow Wow booth or check them out on their website.
You’ll be glad you did.
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