A fashion business working to help the homeless and started by entrepreneurs who met at Cumberland County-based Messiah College continues to move forward this spring with the launch of its 2012 Spring and Summer Collection.
Anthony Thomas and Stephen Caldwell kicked off KNO Clothing in 2010 in the midstate, where their endeavor partnered with Harrisburg-based Bethesda Mission’s Mobile Mission for its first clothing distribution event.
The company sources and sells socially responsible clothing via the Internet. Its profits support efforts across the country to end homelessness, and the business donates and distributes an article of clothing such as socks to the homeless for each product it sells.
Thomas recently updated the Business Journal on how the business is doing. To date, KNO Clothing has distributed more than 700 articles of clothing to people in need and has helped house more than 12,000 people, he said.
The company has had sales of more than 700 items, but the balance of corresponding articles for donation are awaiting distribution through targeted events, Thomas said.
Please tell me a little bit about the business your partner and you launched and what the business model is.
Of course. The company’s name is KNO Clothing and my business partner’s name is Steve Caldwell. We launched now a year and a half ago and we’re a fashion company that gives back to help end homelessness around the country.
We work in two different ways. We give away a (clothing) product, for every item sold, to somebody on the street, and then we also provide contributions to our nonprofit partners so they can help end homelessness around the country.
How have things gone since you started? Have there been any unexpected hurdles or difficulties you’ve had to overcome?
When we launched, we really were very small, and pretty much, when people bought our products, we’d give back to the Harrisburg and Central Pennsylvania community. Soon after we launched, probably a month or two later, we got emails and other types of correspondence from individuals from all around country saying, “It’s great what you guys are doing, but we’d like to help people in other parts of the country.”
And that was our challenge. We never really expected to grow that fast, and we had to think on our feet and think through how we were going to grow the company and allow others to participate.
We were fortunate to come across the 100,000 Homes Campaign, an organization that actually works all around the country to help house (people) and help end homelessness.
So we grew from working in Harrisburg in late 2010/early 2011 to working in about 60 communities. We jumped from one to 60 pretty fast. So that was a learning curve, and now we’re everywhere, all around the country.
It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve been able to significantly expand our product line (and) we’ve introduced a ton of accessories outside of just casual clothing for men and women, and we’ve really been able to inspire people from all around the country.
Are you and Mr. Caldwell still working your other jobs or is this your full-time job?
No, this is not our full-time job. We’d love to do that, but what we’ve done is use our profits to give back and to grow the company.
We don’t have a million dollars sitting on the side to be like, “OK, we can do whatever we want with it.” With what we have, we try to do more and try to expand it a lot in different areas.
Who is your core customer?
Our customers are typically what you would call young adults … folks anywhere from 18 to 35 (years old). And then secondary to that has been a lot of parents buying our stuff for their kids and grandchildren. So we’ve been reaching our core market in two ways: directly by them and then also through their parents and grandparents.
Is it still mainly Web-based sales or have you reached out through brick-and-mortar retail stores?
It’s really been mainly Web-based. In addition to our own website, we’ve sold through some other e-commerce sites as well for the past year, year and a half. We’ve done a couple of pop-ups where we’ve sold at events and other types of things.
We’ve been contacted to be sold in brick-and-mortar stores, and we’re exploring that. We’re trying to think strategically about what that might look like. We might try to do our own stores at some point. We’re trying to explore those things.
When was the last time you did anything in the Harrisburg area here, just to kind of bring it all home for our readers?
We had a delivery event there in fall of 2011. I was personally there myself. We’re hoping to come out again either the end of the summer or certainly in the fall.