• Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission

Finding Peace (Frogs, that is) During a Pandemic

When you live fun and do good like Peace Frogs, surely a pandemic can’t keep you down.

Catesby Jones — the founder of the Gloucester-headquartered apparel line that celebrates harmony with an iconic frog offering the peace sign — watched business plummet in the spring when COVID-19 ramped up.

“Peace Frogs had a phenomenal January and February. The economy was great; people were upbeat,” he said. “It’s incredible how fast things changed.”

Retail outlets closed; trade shows were scrapped. That left all orders for the multimillion dollar company canceled. Peace Frogs typically sells to more than 300 stores nationwide. Festivals and trade shows regularly feature the line, which now includes “Peace Dogs,” retro and tie dye.

Not surprisingly, Jones didn’t wallow. His acumen for business dates back 35 years when, as a University of Virginia international relations major, he fashioned shorts out of the flags from of nations behind the Iron Curtain. That idea morphed into what is today the Peace Frogs brand, which celebrates every day as a good one. Merchandise ranges from shirts and shorts to bumper stickers and backpacks.

“You’ve got to adapt to the change,” Jones said. “You can’t just lament the times. You attack them.”

Jones credits the Back to Business grant the company received from the Gloucester County Economic Development Authority, as administered by Middle Peninsula District Planning Commission, for helping business get back on track. The grants for qualified businesses offset the costs that owners incur to keep their businesses open.

A final round of applications opened Sept. 1 and will close Nov. 15. Funds will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Jones used the funds toward technology necessary to connect his team of artists and salespeople who suddenly found themselves working remotely. Some needed laptops; others needed cell-enabled products due to their lack of internet.

“This grant really allowed us to get the equipment we needed to go mobile,” Jones said. “It allowed me to make the investment we need to keep going.”

Jones had no trouble navigating the grant’s application process. “Surprisingly easy,” he said. “Quick and easy.”

Business is improving. Peace Frogs can’t recoup the lost sales, estimated at half a million, but the structure is in place to move forward despite the uncertain times.

Stores reopened in June. E-commerce sales have doubled. The innovative apparel — one mask reads “SPREAD PEACE NOT GERMS” — keeps inspiring Froggies to come back for more.

Just don’t come looking for politics.

“We’re not about that,” Jones said. “We’re just fun.”

The Peace Frogs brand focuses on hope and happiness. Keeping it simple resonates with a loyal customer base that has grown up wearing the whimsical designs.

“We’re unusual at this time,” Jones said. “We’re clean, humorous apparel. People want that. There’s a sense of optimism in what we are.”

Peace out.

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