All for Lee Lee

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Local teen builds business to support cancer research in memory of his grandmother

By Suzanne Baker

This story originally appeared in our sister publication, the Naperville Sun, and has been updated and reprinted with permission during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

When Wes Selby’s grandmother was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in 2019, the 12-year-old Naperville boy wanted to do something to bring her hope. Wes turned his passion for drawing into creating streetwear designs that can be sold, with proceeds donated to pancreatic cancer research.

With no cure yet, Wes said he’s overwhelmed that, according to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just nine percent. “It’s such a crazy thing to think about,” said the seventh grader who attends Scullen Middle School in Naperville.

The American Cancer Society estimates in 2020 about 57,600 people (30,400 men and 27,200 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and about 47,050 people (24,640 men and 22,410 women) will die from the disease.

Wes’ mother, Kiersten Selby, said it was a shock when her mother, who Wes calls Lee Lee, was diagnosed last August. “She was riding roller coasters with us at spring break,” Kiersten Selby said.

The diagnosis caused Wes to think about what he was capable of doing. Wes said when people are sick, kids rarely get to help. But he envisioned a line of branded clothing and accessories as a way to do something not just for her, but for all the people with pancreatic cancer. “It’s harder for kids to do charity work,” he said. “I think if I can do this, anybody can. I want to raise at least $1,000 for [pancreatic cancer]. If we work hard and don’t give up, we can beat this,” he said. Wes said while a cure would be great, at this point he’d be happy with a test that could detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages. Most people are diagnosed at stage four when it is too late, he said.

Wes’ plan started with the idea of designing a sneaker that incorporated his branded logo W3S, a spin off his first name. His first product was an Italian-made, hand-stitched sneaker called MoonFlag12 produced by Alive Shoes. The red, white, and blue basketball-style sneaker features his W3S logo on the side and an astronaut placing a flag on the moon inside the shoe’s tongue. Kiersten Selby said her mother often told the family how she loved them to the moon and back, and Wes incorporated that theme in the shoe.

Wes Selby, 12, of Naperville designed style of streetwear shoe in honor of his grandmother who was diagnosed in August with pancreatic cancer. Proceeds from the sale of the shoe and other log streetwear benefits pancreatic cancer research.

Wes was able to get seven people he knew to commit to buying the $199 shoe before the company agreed to put the sneakers into production. If 10 people bought the shoes, Kiersten Selby said, Alive Shoes will help market Wes’ product; 25 pairs have been sold so far. Realizing the average kid doesn’t spend $199 for shoes, Wes decided to offer a separate line of affordable streetwear and accessories that sport the W3S design or logo incorporating MoonFlag12 shoe. W3S-branded clothing runs between $25 and $40. Wes put his logo on just about anything teens and tweens might want to purchase, from hoodies to caps and jogging pants. Right now he’s working on marketing his products at Links to the websites to purchase the shoes and his streetwear can be found on Facebook by searching W3S Brand. His products also can be found on Instagram at w3s_chicago.

Although Grandma Lee Lee lost her battle with cancer on June 10, she couldn’t have been more proud of her grandson, Kiersten Selby said. “My mom went to fashion design school. That’s where he gets it from,” she said. Besides playing basketball, football, lacrosse and golf, Wes said much of his free time is spent drawing shoes. “Sometimes it even gets in the way of my school work,” he said.

To date, $5,000 has been raised, donated mostly to the New York-based Lustgarten Foundation. As far as what’s beyond middle school, Wes has dreams. “I’d like to grow [W3S] to be a brand and symbol of a good cause,” he said.