We’re inspired by inventive people with big ideas to benefit the world around them. Just as we take pride in our work and personal projects, we equally believe in supporting the efforts and accomplishments of those in our community. Our LA studio recently hosted a pop-up shop for Povertees, a nonprofit apparel company that fuses charity and design to combat homelessness in LA. We were drawn to the constructive way in which Povertees builds relationships with those affected – one pocket at a time.
When Povertees arrived for the pop-up shop, clients and staff quickly formed a crowd around the setup where t-shirts were laid out beside an eclectic selection of pockets. The process is simple and unique: once the customer picks a shirt and their favorite pocket, Povertees staff will sew them together right then.
We had a great chat with founder and CEO Tyler Patterson and president Hughie Hughes who talked us through the genesis of the company, the cause and how their thoughtful threads fit into the equation.
How’d you come up with this unique idea?
Tyler: I started thinking about Povertees when I was a freshman in college in 2007. I was an awkward and lonely kid most of my life, and I felt awkward and lonely when I started college. Finally there was the period when I realized that no matter how long or short my hair was or how deep my voice, I just didn’t feel like I fit in with other people.
Of course, there were moments when I didn’t feel that way. They all involved that feeling you get when you sense a deep connection with other people - that feeling of profound significance, not as an individual, but as part of something inexplicably transcendent. I knew how important that feeling was to me, and I wanted to create something that galvanized other people who longed to feel the same way. I was somewhat familiar with the homelessness issue growing up in LA county, and reaching out to the homeless seemed like something I could do without needing a large sum of money. I can rationalize it, but in retrospect, it just felt right.
Hughie: Tyler and I met and I thought his idea to sell these shirts was a really cool thing. He knew pocket tees were coming back, and I knew how to sew – I was always tapering girls’ jeans. The first shirts we made were crap, and the pockets didn’t look all that good, but it was just the beginning.
Tyler: We used the money to bring provisions to people on the streets of downtown LA. From the first day that we met our formerly homeless friend Larry, he made it clear to us that, although people would be grateful for food and clothing, it was a sense of hope that they longed for, and that could only be found within a supportive community.
Hughie: We didn’t just pass out provisions; we learned these people’s names and formed close relationships with them. It was important to keep asking ourselves, how can we learn from these people and respect their autonomy? We learned so much from them simply by being there in person and spending time learning their stories. When I officially joined Povertees in 2009 we’d make trips to Skid Row multiple times a week. We would take some of our friends to the DMV, or to rehab, then we’d head back to school for class and spend nights making pockets. Our experience over there was and is more than about charity – it’s friendship. It’s community. I learned it isn’t the meal that makes a difference; it’s the people you share it with.
That wasn’t very long ago. Look where you are now!
Hughie: After college, we put all our effort into making Povertees what it is today. Tyler and I quit our jobs. We’d been planning this crawfish boil in Orange County in order to fundraise and promised ourselves that if we raised over $10,000, we’d drop our full-time jobs and move to LA - we ended up raising about $11,800. We had about three months worth of money to live on. A year and a half later, here we are and we’re still going strong. Our vision has grown a lot.
You’re about to hire your first formerly homeless employee. Can you tell us about your journey with her?
Hughie: We’re really excited to initiate this part of our business. We work with a wonderful organization called the Downtown Women's Center which houses and helps rehabilitate lots of “women in transition,” many of whom were formerly homeless. That’s how we connected with the person we’re hiring as a sewer.
We’re hoping to involve more people like her in our business as much as possible, because poverty is a cycle. These men and women are on the streets. Sometimes rehab works, but a lot of times they end up back where they started. We realize there needs to be more social support. We’re trying to create a new cycle to combat the progression of homelessness.
Any special significance behind the pocket designs?
TYLER: In the past we’ve named pockets after our close friends on the streets, but lately our pockets have been inspired by a social platform we started called the Community Art Collective – our attempt to create an opportunity for people to get involved without having to donate financially. Instead, artists are able to collaborate with us on pocket designs. Our Spring line will feature a few of the designs that have risen out of that platform.
Tyler: We just launched a Kickstarter campaign to create the first Povertees cut and sew line, made in the USA with pockets sewn in-house by formerly homeless employees. The designs are coming out of the Community Art Collective, and our employees are able to work to give the same opportunities that they have been given, to others. In this way, we are creating a cycle of reciprocal giving to combat the cycle of poverty.
What else should we know?
Hughie: If anyone ever wants to get involved with Povertees, we’ll find a way to make it happen. Just because some people who want to contribute aren’t located in LA, doesn’t mean they can’t help out. We welcome anyone who’s inspired to be a part of it – there’s a myriad of things you can do: tell your friends, host a block party or pop-up shop, donate and simply support. We appreciate when we see individuals and companies take a corporate social responsibility.
Tyler: Povertees is not about handouts, but about creating an opportunity for people to help themselves within a supportive community. We are a very small organization, but with some growth we plan to become a social enterprise that continues to value people over profit.
For more info on the Povertees story and apparel, visit their website and stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also help launch the Povertees cut & sew line on their newly launched Kickstarter.