Trustee Christopher S. Welles ’84, P’12, P’15 and his philanthropic clothing line American Rhino were recently featured on ABC’s Boston affiliate WCVB-TV. The segment, which discusses the trend of online retail expanding to brick-and-mortar stores, included an interview with Welles at his store in downtown Boston.
“For us, having the pop-up allows us to test the concept and prove that it works before signing a five to 10-year lease. We have the flexibility to try different locations, which seemed very appealing for us,” explains Welles, who founded American Rhino and its coinciding foundation in 2016. “We’ve really found our customers shop with their hands and for them to be able to come in and touch the fabrics and hear the story physically has just been very beneficial for us.”
A socially conscious venture, American Rhino funds conservation and wildlife projects in east Africa directly and through partner organizations. Welles and his family became committed to the cause following a Kenyan safari where they learned of the challenges facing the region’s wildlife. Additional information about American Rhino is available on their website.
Welles was also featured in the Winter 2018 Pulteney Street Survey, describing the “aha moment” that led to his career in wildlife advocacy.
Where the Savannah Ends
By: Andrew Wickenden ’09
It began as a family vacation, but in the decade since, a “life-changing” trip to Kenya has snowballed into an urgent call to action for HWS Trustee Chris Welles ’84, P’12, P’15.
Equipped with only a map of Kenya and GPS coordinates, Welles and his family had 10 hours to hit 13 checkpoints in the shortest distance possible, all while negotiating dense thorny brush and nearly vertical rocky slopes, navigating dry and not-so-dry riverbeds as well as the occasional elephant herd, and racing other teams angling for victory. They were competing in the Rhino Charge, an off-road motorsport race that supports wildlife conservation efforts in the region.
Since their first year participating, Welles and his family have competed in the Rhino Charge five times, raising more than $200,000 for Rhino Ark and, in the process, devising a way to magnify Kenya’s rhino conservation efforts. In 2015, Welles’ son Wyatt developed an eye-catching logo — a rhino silhouette emblazoned with the American flag — to put on stickers and hats as thank-you gifts for the team’s sponsors. With positive feedback from sponsors, a growing affection for Kenya and an abiding concern for the threatened rhinos, Welles developed the concept for American Rhino, an apparel company with a mission “to preserve African wildlife by funding the most effective local wildlife conservation organizations in Africa.”
At the time, Welles had been running Twin Oaks Partners, a boutique executive search firm (named for the favorite haunt of generations of HWS students) that Welles had founded in the early 2000s. “It was a good job,” he says, “but when I had the opportunity to go to Africa, and then to go back for the Rhino Charge, it dawned on me that I could make a difference.”
Welles left Twin Oaks Partners and began traveling regularly to Kenya. He met with local residents, business owners and international wildlife advocacy groups to build connections for the company and its charitable arm, the American Rhino Foundation, which collects 10 percent of each sale to fund conservation initiatives.
“If we’re going to promote conservation, and we have the ability to manufacture in Kenya and employ Kenyans, we need to do everything we can,” Welles says of the company’s Kenyan products. “Poachers are out there trying to kill rhinos and chop off their horns to sell them on the black market. If someone comes and waves a bunch of money, saying ‘lead me to the rhinos,’ it’s hard to say no.”
Since Welles launched American Rhino one year ago, the company has established brick-and-mortar locations in Lynnfield, Mass., and in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.
The company’s expansion coincides with a growing presence in Kenya, as American Rhino supports education programs on conservation and tools to help protection efforts on the ground. The foundation recently issued a $10,000 grant to a local school and provided uniforms and proper gear for rangers at Massai Mara National Reserve. “These are the guys out there in the line of fire. They spend nights out there in the bush, protecting animals from poachers. They’re shot at, wounded, and they were doing all this in flip-flops before,” he says. “So being able to present them with these uniforms, seeing the joy, the smiles, the hugs — that felt really rewarding.”