Benjamin Ayres has starred in countless romance movies over the years, but he never expected he’d wind up being the head of Romance University. Yet his idea — a make-believe school for “alumni” who adore the TV romances that have made the Hallmark Channel so successful — has taken off among his fellow stars and fans as a tongue-in-cheek way to celebrate the genre while also raising money for women and children in need.
Benjamin Ayres Never Expected Romance University to Become So Popular
Just for fun last year, Ayres made a few buttons with a “Hallmark University” crest he designed using the nearly 200-year-old Harvard University logo as his inspiration. In early December 2022, he handed them out at a dinner with several Hallmark pals including Andrew Walker and Kristoffer Polaha. To his surprise, they said they thought he was onto something big.
With a vendor in Vancouver, Ayres made a few Hallmark University hoodies for himself and his famous friends. He also handed out buttons to fans at Christmas Con 2022, held in New Jersey from December 9 to 11. During an Instagram Live with Polaha several weeks later, he told him how surprised he was by how much people loved the concept and wanted more merchandise.
“I wasn’t really going to turn it into a clothing line,” he said, adding that he needed to figure out suppliers and shipping before making the first hoodies available to fans on December 31st.
“It’s a play on Harvard,” he added. “We’ve all gone to the University. Now we’re all, you know, rom-com graduates.”
Laughing, Polaha said, “Masters of romance! We all have our PhDs in romance!”
Ayres announced to fans via social media that the proceeds would benefit two women’s shelters in Toronto. The merchandise sold out within two weeks, raising over $4,000. On January 19, his birthday, Ayres shared on Instagram that he and his wife, Erin Borgfjord, got to visit the two shelters benefitting from fans’ generosity — Street Haven, a 50-bed emergency shelter, and Anduhyaun, the oldest Indigenous Women’s Shelter in Canada.
“Today is a dream come true, made possible by YOU,” he wrote. “This is the first of many more donations to come.”
Polaha has since changed the branding from Hallmark University to Romance University, aiming to be more inclusive of romance movies airing on other networks, but it’s primarily been his Hallmark peers who have supported and promoted the effort, including Nikki DeLoach, Erin Cahill, Taylor Cole, and Rachel Boston.
In a Facebook post on January 23 filled with photos of his famous friends wearing their gear, Ayres wrote, “It all started with these warm wonderful humans one evening in Vancouver. I can’t thank them enough for their support and kindness.”
He has since launched a Romance University website and Instagram page, with plans to keep introducing new designs and charities.
New Limited-Edition Valentine’s Merchandise Features Popular Male Leads
On February 2, during an Instagram Live session with Walker, Ayres unveiled a limited-edition design with images of Walker, Tyler Hynes, and Paul Campbell — the stars of Hallmark’s smash hit “Three Wise Men and a Baby” — featured within the Romance University crest. In addition to hoodies, the logo is available on coasters, coffee mugs, pet collars, pajama pants, tumblers, and candles. Ayres said he initially made a t-shirt with the trio’s faces on it as a joke, but Walker loved it.
Ayres reminded him, “I sent you a photo and you just said ‘Yes!’ And I was like, ‘I think we should think about this as our next launch.’”
For the Valentine’s Day promotion, proceeds will benefit a charity chosen by Walker — Alexandria House, a transitional home for women and children in Los Angeles. Walker said it will be powerful to be able to bring the money raised directly to the home where it will have such a huge impact.
“There’s kids involved — you know, it’s mothers and their children,” Walker said. “It’s a special place and I’m looking forward to doing it this time with Alexandria House and, who knows if we’ll find another one down the road. You know, we gotta sprinkle it all over the place.”
In addition to the “Three Men and a Baby” stars’ merchandise, Ayres has also made available a limited-edition “Bromance University” t-shirt featuring a photo of him with Hynes.
So far, Ayres said, 95% of orders are coming from within the U.S.
“You’re a real special guy,” Walker told Ayres. “It’s so great you’re spending your time, your time off, giving back. I love it.”