GULFPORT -- Maggie Banks, a fun-loving, free spirit known to most of her friends as the Mississippi Hippie, loved to tie-dye shirts by hand for her friends. But after a 2007 trip to Africa, she began dyeing and marketing T-shirts with her nickname on them as a way to help needy Ugandan children.
Banks, 31, prints and sells MissiHippie shirts from Matthew Print and Apparel Co. in Gulfport. A percentage of her earnings goes to Bright Kids, a children's orphanage in Uganda.
On a photographic safari with Ole Miss professor Brooke White, Banks met the children at the orphanage. She knew she wanted to do something to help them.
"My dad said, 'Why don't you start a clothing line or brand or something like that?'" she said.
Banks, who at first dyed all of her shirts herself, had Mississippi Hippie printed on the sleeve. Her friends loved them, so she knew they would sell if she could reach a bigger market.
Banks would need a bigger space and a better business model if she wanted to expand, though. Her tie-dye was becoming messy -- and expensive.
"I ruined two washers and dryers from dyeing so much stuff," she said. Her friend Christian Matthew, owner of Matthew Print and Apparel, suggested Banks print her shirts at his shop.
She said she didn't yet have the capital, but Matthew believed in the cause.
"He loved the idea, and we worked something out until it got going," she said.
With the help of Matthew's father, art teacher Ken Matthew, Banks' brand changed to MissiHippie. Ken Matthew suggested she base a design on the state's official type style and add a peace sign within it. Then they added a VW Microbus, the iconic '60s hippie van.
"We added the bus to give it a little more flair," she said.
She's sold shirts to customers as far away as California and New York.
"Once they see it, everybody loves them," she said. "Who doesn't like peace? Peace never goes out of style."
MissiHippie has been in business about two years, and Banks has given Bright Kids Uganda enough money for to buy school supplies, vaccines, bedding -- and a cow.
"I'm not in it to make money, really," she said. "I think it's a cute idea. I like the shirts and they're soft, and if it can buy cows for people, then so be it."