Although it probably won't replace fashion designers' initials as the ultimate status symbol, Bill Retskin's logo is a sign of the times.
"For deaf people, it's the universal peace sign," said Retskin, pointing to the juge hand with a thumb and two raised fingers hanging over his Alexandria storefront. "It means 'I love you.'"
Retskins, 36, a burly, bearded businessman, is founder and president of the "I love You Gift Co., "a fast-growing, lucrative mail order business and gift shop that specializes in novelty items for the deaf.
Retskin claims to be the lergest wholesaler of gifts for the deaf in the country. His firm's 23-page catalogue is sent to more than 60,000 customers around the world, including schools, clubs, churches and hospitals.
Although he won't reveal his sales figures, Retskin says least year he sold 9,300 copies of one item: a $4.50 "deaf awareness" T-shirt.
Many T-shirts carry Retskin's favorite slogans: "Let Yout Fingers Do The Talking" or "Help Stop Noise Pollution -- Use Sign Language."
Those messages, as well as Restskin's "I Love You' symbol, also are etched on key rings, tote bags, baseball caps, beer steins, visors, pens, place mats and aprons.
For $14.95, Retskin offers a "Moonbeam Flashalarm," which wakes sleepers with bright flashes of light instead of buzzers or bells. He has a sign language scrabble game, a Bible specially designed for the deaf and sign language-personalized door mats.
"There are a lot of companies that make hearing aids," he said. "I wanted to sell items people could have fun with."
Retskin's unusual venture began four years ago when his leather shop started supplying deaf students at Washington's Gallaudet College with key rings. Then, Retskin said, "One thing led to another."
He gave up the leather business and drew up a mail order catalogue offering a line of "deaf awareness" products. Least week, he opened a retail outlet on N. Royal Street in Alexandria, selling T-shirts, games, mugs, frisbees, yo-yos, bumper stickers and other items stamped with the "I Love You" logo.
"I'm coming out with something brand new," he said this week, holding up a shirt with what appeared to be button candy stuck to the fabric. It's a Braille T-shirt."
"It's a Braille shirt had raised letters for the blind on the back and sign language on the front. The message, however, is the same: "If you can read this, let's talk."
Besides offering instant communication for the handicapped, Retskin's products are winning strong acceptance from people without hearing impairments.
"He's got a double market," said Barbara Olmert, publications director for the National Association of the Deaf, a Silver Spring-based group that applauds Retskin's work. "He's hitting the deaf people, but he's also selling to a lot of friends and relatives."
According to Olmert, more than 200,000 persons in the Washington area, have some form of hearing impairment.
"Bill is making deafness visible," Olmert said.
Retskin, who has no hearing problem, said deaf people often mistrust businessmen.
"I used to be a total capitalist," he said. "Now, this business is like a religion to me. Sure, I make money, but I don't rip anybody off.Some of my closest friends are deaf."
Olmert said many college-educated deaf persons earn substantial salaries but that the market for "deaf awareness" products haa been virtually untapped.
"I'm excited about what Bill's doing," said Mary Janes Rhodes, who manages her "deaf awareness" mail order business, "I Hear Your Hand", from her Greenbelt home. Rhodes said the Washington area is attractive to deaf persons because of Gallaudet College and because the federal government hires many handicapped persons.
Retskin employs two deaf workers and offers scholarships to his hearing workers who want to learn sign language. CAPTION: Illustration, SIGN LANGUAGE USED HERE, Copyright (c) 1979, ODTS