Sitting on the floor of the studio at Movement Shala, 435 E. Ninth St., Alok Appadurai describes how he and his life partner, Jade Beall, started Fed by Threads, a store that sells sustainable, made-in-the-U.S.A. clothing, with sales helping to support emergency meals for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and a nationwide hunger-relief organization. The clothing is available at the Ninth Street location and online. For more info, go to www.FedByThreads.com.
How did this start?
I started out as a schoolteacher, but I always had an interest in entrepreneurship, especially social entrepreneurship. It's in my blood. But after my mother died of breast cancer, I was in Brooklyn, N.Y., and my life was wide open. ... I met Jade, and we hit it off, and a few months later, I sold everything and moved to Tucson. She's become my partner and co-founder in everything. We're parents together and creators together, and that led us on this road to this space. There are three main components here: the Movement Shala, which is a yoga and dance studio, and there is the community, and now Fed by Threads.
How are classes offered?
There's a lot of different models with how studios work, and we've created one that we feel benefits teachers. ... The point of the space is to be people-centered. We don't care about the discipline. It could be tango classes or meditation, as long as it is community-centered. We have a growing pride in the community of teachers here. ... It's a sacred space for people to take risks and enjoy themselves.
And then Fed by Threads?
Our community started asking for a community shirt for this space. Jade had identified a poem by Rumi about dance and life, and we said, "This will be on a rack." At the same time, we got mail from the Food Bank with horrifying statistics on the depth of hunger in the United States. We said, "We've got to do something," and we decided to reach out to the Food Bank and figured out how our community shirts could cover the cost of 12 emergency food boxes from the sale of each shirt.
But now this is more than just a rack of community shirts?
Yes, when people started asking us where we were getting the shirts manufactured, and with what fabrics, we started looking into this industry more. We realized that we could do more and make more designs. None of us come from this industry, fashion or retail. We're more about walking a way in life that's done in baby steps. It took eight months for us to get there. The project was born about December 2011. People thought we were crazy, because everyone looks at sustainable fabrics as frumpy. But we found a manufacturing relationship that seemed too good to be true. We got in our car with our baby for a very long drive to California and found a company that does small-batch production, no mass production.
What are the clothes like?
Hand-cut and hand-sewn, super-high quality, in our opinion. And we didn't just jack up the price. When we started, I said, "I don't want this to become a project for the elite and wealthy and those with discretionary income." We continued to drill down further, even looking at our shipping mailers, making sure we used biodegradable as opposed to the plastic bags that last in the landfill forever.
How do you make a profit between the cost of business and donating to the Food Bank?
The point is to make a profit, but ... there is a world of entrepreneurs who are thinking about business differently. Basically, the premise is, can ... I take care of my family and shake the trees? Do we hope it is successful? Yes. Do we intend to have a roof over our heads and feed our 10-month-old healthy food? Do we have confidence that we can do all these things? Yes.
How much do your garments cost?
Between $22 and $72, what we think an average American can easily spend on a quality piece of clothing. I would argue most stores offer clothing that is made overseas and generally made in mass production, with no humanitarian benefit. And they certainly don't benefit the environment.
So how does the humanitarian benefit work for your company?
Every piece we sell provides 12 emergency meal boxes across the country. By the end of 2012, we should cross 15,000 emergency meal boxes. We started right here at the local Food Bank. They were thrilled. They don't often have projects coming to their door.