Mike Fretto - Founder of Rosa Loves


Mike Fretto is a designer, advocate, visionary, and humanitarian living in Florida. He has created one of the best examples of how people can use their unique talents for others. He started Rosa Loves in 2006 which supports causes with t-shirts. He is currently working with a start-up accelerator program based in Jacksonville and his modus operandi is to create thoughtful design that makes a meaningful impact on people. Check out his website here for more information and a portfolio of his incredible work! 

What was the purpose behind Rosa Loves, and what inspired your inception for it? 

In the beginning, the purpose behind Rosa Loves was to use the talents that I had in graphic design, in a way that can directly benefit someone else in need. In late 2005, I joined a group of college-aged volunteers going to New Orleans to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina. We were taken through homes that were destroyed and heard awful stories. I was young at that time and up to that point, probably a little separated from realities like this. Growing up white in an upper middle class home in the suburbs, I never came close to the places and things I was hearing. Art and Lynette were a couple we were helping. Their entire home was destroyed. As we hauled moldy carpet and drywall from what remained of their home, they told us how when the levee broke, they thought they were going to die. Their young son, who doesn't know how to swim had to be pulled from a current of water sweeping him out from a window. We kept hearing stories like these, and as I learned more, I realized that a lot of the people we were helping were poor. Us helping them was a big deal. On average, we helped each family save around $5,000. All we had to do was volunteer our time and lend some elbow grease. I think I was moved by their stories and felt satisfied that we were helping them in such a huge way. I wanted to find a way to help people like this in my own neighborhood, which led to conversations with my friend, Chris Lewis. This is when the concept for Rosa Loves was born.


What was the biggest impact that Rosa Loves had for you personally? For other people?

There's a lot that it did for me personally, which took awhile for me to realize. The focus was on other people in need—and that was, of course, the goal. However, I came to understand that a huge part of what drew me into this kind of work was for personal satisfaction. It's great when one can help someone in need with time or resources. For me, knowing I can do that by meshing it together with my passion for graphic design was huge. My professional work in design hasn't always satisfied me, so applying it in this format certainly helped bring balance. Since Rosa Loves, I've sought ways to incorporate my design experience in ways that can benefit someone else in need. This is likely where Rosa Loves has made its biggest impact on me.


What inspires a lot of the designs you produce?

That depends on a lot of things like the project's intent, audience, etc., but one thing that I consistently find a lot of inspiration in is people's stories. Stories have so much meaning. People relate to stories. Stories have the power to move people and drive them to action. Rosa Loves was so much about storytelling and using that as a way to link people together and cultivate a spirit of empathy. Stories continue to inspire me in the design work that I do.


What talked about designforus.org as being your new thesis project, how this project allowed you to help others reach success?

Rosa Loves allowed me to use my talents as a designer to help someone in need. Usually this involved me, from somewhat of "the outside looking in" perspective. We had relationships with the folks we were helping, but as time went on, I struggled with the idea of "me designing for someone." Why was this? Well, at times I realized that too many assumptions were made. In this mindset, from my perspective, I assumed that the person wanted or needed my help. From their perspective, however, maybe that looks different. Maybe they needed something that I can't provide simply by designing something that I think is helpful. Many times, like any problem, it's complicated. We realized this when at times, our plans and good intentions did not pan out the way we expected they would. Without going into all of the details, my point is this: designers sometimes need to get out of the way. In my opinion, they ought to do more listening than anything. We are trained to do this. We gather requirements, we meet with clients to hear about their problems. This is similar with designing for social good, but it's real life with real life implications. Hearing from people and allowing them to voice their own needs helps ensure that we're tackling the right problems and it gives people a sense of ownership—something important for lasting change. All that being said, this was the aim of my thesis project. Design for Us represents a new mindset for me that gives ordinary people the ability to use design as a way to address problems that matter to them. Rather than "me designing something for them", the project is more like "them designing for them." It puts me in a new role—a facilitator, and in turn empowers them to articulate their needs in their own way, by using the tools of visual communication.


Have you ever experienced an adversity growing up that inspired you to lead that life you live now?

I've been really lucky and fortunately haven't experienced anything too harsh in my lifetime. I think one thing that inspired me to lead the life I live now is exposure to other people from different backgrounds and circumstances. My parents raised me to always stick up for those who can't fight for themselves. I think learning that we're all in this together and that life is short, influenced me a lot from a young age.


What has been the hardest thing for you to learn about life? 

That I don't have it all figured out yet and probably never will.


What is the biggest piece of advice you can give to people seeking to start a social good business? 

Do something "small." Many times, we think we need to do so much. Start a business, launch a website, design a logo, etc. Those things are wonderful and sure—they're part of it, but I think I learned the most valuable lessons when I took my focus off of the "big things" and put energy into small things. What's a very simple way you can help an organization, group of people, or cause? Look to their basic needs. Maybe it's cleaning a dirty bathroom (gross, I know) or how about planting some flowers at a facility that might need a little outdoor TLC. Whatever it is, if you're attentive, open-minded and willing, chances are, you'll learn and grow so much from those "small," humble acts. They will affect our endeavors elsewhere whether in life or our social good business. Our immediate thought when launching an initiative is to accomplish huge things, but sometimes it's those small things that accomplish the most.

Can't thank Mike enough for taking the time to answer these questions with such rich detail. He truly has acted a personal inspiration for myself and influences the why that I hope to run Ripple. 

Here are some of the nuggets of gold I took away from his post: 

  • Start small and give up your time for others. This in itself can lead you to new avenues and instances of inspiration that you may have never imagined prior
  • Find what you love in life and do it over and over again. There's no point doing something that won't give you any personal satisfaction in the end. 
  • Do what you love, then do what you love for the benefit of others. 
  • Ask people their story, you'd be surprised as to the inspiration that can arise from them. 
  • Once you start to experience life and begin to help others, don't be afraid to take a step back and look at how you can help people in a way that ultimately empowers those in need. 
  • We are all in this together, stick up for those whose voices are too shy to speak up. 
  • If you can't do great things, do small things in a great way.

Find out more about Mike Fretto and his work at his website, MikeFretto.com. 

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