In our first interview with Pilar Liebl Lopez from Distant Shores Apparel, we take a look at what inspired this Catholic, family-based business. Welcome, Pilar!
While Distant Shores Apparel creates custom Catholic tees and gifts, our most precious “product” is our story that began with a unique “Rosary Symbols” design my father was inspired to create… which turned into a product loved by thousands and has endured decades.
1. Tell us about yourself!
When I was a young girl, I loved the excitement of packing for a trip, eating “road food”, sucking on “Atomic Fire Balls” (Dad’s favorite) and seeing all corners of the country through our car window. There was such anticipation in the adventure and laughs that lay ahead as I traveled with Dad to Catholic conferences around the United States as he evangelized the rosary using his “Rosary Symbols” t-shirts as an engaging tool.
We met so many spirit-filled people at these conferences as we shared witnesses at our booth – something I didn’t quite understand the value of until adulthood, but I loved how it felt and I was aware of God at work nevertheless.
It wasn’t until years later I realized just how much Dad and I had in common. We shared a deep love of family, people, travel, entrepreneurship, serving others, our blessed mother and Jesus! I found that at the core, this is what inspired us and tied us together… well, that and perhaps a special legacy that was still to come!
After being laid off from his job of twenty years at the age of fifty and with a family of nine to support, my father took a job at a small convenience shop to make ends meet. In between waiting on customers he would faithfully pray the rosary, but in doing so would lose his place in remembering which mystery he was meditating on.
To help “remind him” where he was, he doodled simple images of each mystery as he prayed – refining these doodles more and more for weeks until he was finally satisfied. Once they were complete, we all realized that his “little reminders” were anything but little!
With his great entrepreneurial spirit, Dad excitedly ran his “idea” by me to engrave his symbols on a gold ring to sell. I loved the idea; however a gold ring would be too expensive for many and so I suggested printing them on T-shirts instead – and he did.
As it turned out, wearing these odd, hieroglyphic looking symbols on a T-shirt routinely begged the question “what do those symbols mean?” from passerby’s. God was indeed at work in my father through his design as the symbols served as a great conversation starter – a perfect tool for evangelizing! The “little reminders” paved the way for the beginning of Dad’s rosary ministry and new business he called, “Distant Shores”.
Over the next five years, Dad witnessed and traveled and wore his symbols like a uniform for God everywhere he went… his family too. You might say we were an army of nine, protected and ready with our rosary battle gear!
Dad gave me such a beautiful start… and after just five years into my training, he passed away.
Year after Dad’s death, his ministry had since dwindled without someone to care for it as mom was busy raising her seven children (most of us were in school yet). My mom reluctantly offered Dad’s symbols to interested parties over the years but with no success; God knew better and I’m certain he was saving them for me knowing my deep desire, to be able to continue Dad’s work.
I was always fearful that one of these outside entities would have success and we’d lose them forever. It broke my heart thinking that our “gift” from Dad wouldn’t be kept where I knew it belonged… with family.
The Luminous Mysteries
But just as God had orchestrated it, the design came back to us, albeit now outdated as St. Pope John Paul II had introduced the luminous mysteries in 2002 – seven years after Dad had passed away not included in the original design. My mom encouraged me (an artist) to finish them as she knew the value of the rosary symbols and had helped Dad all along in prayer and in traveling to conferences, caring for all of us and in witnessing to everyone… and I mean EVERYONE (she loved it too)!
But, no matter how hard I tried over the next seven years, I couldn’t come up with the luminous symbols. I felt that the design was a gift from God to Dad, for the world and I didn’t want to “mess” with what I felt was divine perfection.
But one day in 2010 and all in His perfect timing, I had a moment where I felt I might be ready to try, so I sat down to sketch. Ten minutes hadn’t passed before I had finished them. God did it! He washed away my anxiety, doubt and crippling perfectionism and just guided my hand in finishing!
Dad’s design was complete once again and I could let out a deep breath in thanksgiving and set my mind on the work ahead.
Distant Shores is alive again!
2. What do you make?
Loaded with freshly printed tees, my husband and I headed to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indiana. It was our first conference together and we were excitedly greeted by an audience of 25,000 youth, on fire in their Catholic faith and craving more!
It was such a confirmation that we were, once again on the right path… great witnessing and stories ensued! One young girl had shared that she prayed the rosary with her mom as she rode to and from school every day… yet she didn’t know a single mystery. After 5 minutes of walking her through each symbol, she had learned them by heart – it was AWESOME!
Then, a priest approached smiling from ear to ear who he proceeded to tell us that he bought his first shirt from Dad when he was a seminarian about 20 years prior and I’ll never forget what he said as he first approached… “I was waiting for you”. He knew that one day we’d meet again – continuing to share the rosary with all who would listen.
THIS is what I love so much about our business ministry – the stories, and witnessing, instant friendships, the excitement of the Holy Spirit working through one another and of course the evangelizing! I now “got” what drew Dad to conferences.
While Dad is no longer with us in body, we feel him in spirit and I feel blessed to have a business where sharing about my Dad and remembering him daily is a job “requirement”. We feel especially blessed as our customers continually offer up prayers for our family, our ministry, and special blessings for Dad as he continues to touch so many through his symbols.
Yeah for technology and social media – a small business’ best friend! We have a website and a Facebook page as well as fun Catholic Pinterest boards – oh how things have changed since Dad’s time! The design has changed of course – it is now complete with all four mysteries from top to bottom… Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious and the best change of all is the addition of my husband Roberto “Tito”, to the Distant Shores team.
Tito shares my vision and passion and works tirelessly by my side, he does all heavy lifting and hauling boxes of shirts, setting up displays, driving long hours to and from conferences, and taking care of the little things such as seeing that I am drinking throughout long days (I often lose my voice after hours of continual witnessing and selling).
He lights up when people react to Dad’s design and the witnessing that follows – he especially loves to feel God at work (always showing me his goose bumps). His specialty is “bugging” other vendor friends we see frequently at conferences and keeps us all laughing.
He is a blessing as without his physical strength and companionship, I could not travel “do “conferences (due to chronic back problems) – he is a true servant. While he never met Dad, he is continually touched by the comments people make about what a good man Dad was and how inspired they are by his design (some of these customers bought their first shirts from Dad 20 years ago and still have them… because they are dear to them).
I am also thankful my husband is able to “meet Dad” through the people who stop to visit our booth and through me as I “work” and as he can now fully appreciate the work my Dad once did.
3. What else do you do?
I am always inspired with new ideas, designs and products – and I know nothing will ever trump our rosary symbols… but, I wouldn’t want it any other way!
I’m inspired by everything from politics, Scripture, current events and more and am constantly working on new shirt designs and new products such as travel mugs and jewelry (which are on the way). My husband and I are praying for children and so a natural by-product is an increased passion in continuing to develop my children’s and baby apparel line (perhaps books too). I’ll often post “sneak peaks” of developing products and ideas on Facebook and your feedback is greatly appreciated.
Our tees are “Catholic printed” (by a good friend who operates a screen printing business from her home) on the highest quality shirts available… preshrunk, combed cotton, unisex tees that run longer than industry standards (for modesty sake). They are lightweight and SOFT!
I would like to thank you for sticking with me through this long blog post – but there is so much in me, waiting to get out. We’re excited about where we’re heading and we hope that if you see us at a conference – you’ll stop by to introduce yourself as we look forward to meeting you. Thank you for your support of small, Catholic businesses as well. – please keep our shirts in mind for your rosary, Totus Tuus and youth groups, we’re always happy to sell wholesale for your fundraisers!
May you always see God’s handiwork in your day!
Pilar Liebl Lopez,
Distant Shores Apparel
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