Fashion + Philanthropy — KNO Clothing
by Kelly Keenan | University of Notre Dame
After graduating college, friends Anthony Thomas and Stephen Caldwell went their separate ways only to join forces years later on an exceptional project they would call KNO Clothing. We were lucky enough to speak to Thomas about his stylish company and its philanthropic work.
Stephen Caldwell said he always had a thing for graphic t-shirts. At some point, after continuous conversation with Thomas, he realized the shirts were more than a just hobby — that they could actually become a profession.
Around the same time, the philanthropic duo began feeling the urge to give back, especially to the homeless, a group toward which they felt particularly passionate. Thomas recalls them constantly asking themselves, “Can we do something about these people?”
In November of 2010, Thomas and Caldwell launched KNO Clothing, somewhat as an experiment. Thomas says the two “really wanted to test out the concept.” Unsure of how people would respond to their idea, KNO created a small line of t-shirts. The purchase of each shirt would benefit the homeless in the community of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Soon, responses from people nationwide prompted them to expand their business to communities around the country.
Using a variation of the “one for one” model, KNO provides the homeless people of several communities the items they most need. For each item purchased online, Thomas says KNO gives a product to someone currently experiencing homelessness. Rather than “Buy one, give one,” Thomas and Caldwell pride themselves on their motto, “Buy one, give more.”
With nationwide expansion came the need to join forces with a larger campaign against homelessness. In partnership with 100K Homes, KNO has aided in the end of homelessness. Not only has the company hand delivered 1,000 articles of clothing to people experiencing homelessness, but a portion of the company’s proceeds benefits 100K in their efforts to eliminate homelessness in the U.S. Thomas said the goal of 100K is to figure out how to take people from the streets and move them into permanent homes.
“Because we are not experts in ending the issue, we want to work with the best in the field and make sure we support what they’re doing,” Thomas said.
This is why they decided to partner with 100K, an organization Thomas cited as the premier group trying to end homelessness in America.
KNO started as a company with few products and evolved, now creating full-fledged collections. The pair hopes to continue to expand, bringing their products into stores.
In addition to being philanthropic, the clothes and accessories are also green. All products are made with post-consumer recycled material and are fair trade. Though not made by KNO, the donated goods are given based on what the homeless in a particular community most need.
“Thanks to customers we have the ability to buy something we can give them,” Thomas said.
Thomas said that for young people who hope to embark on a similar endeavor, the greatest advice he can provide is to really study the issue. Thomas and Caldwell spent a lot of time with homeless people in order to get feedback on how exactly their model should work. Thomas also mentioned the importance of flexibility and openness to change. He said that though companies try to do good, not all models are foolproof, and some need to be altered in order to produce the best results for the most people.
As they continue to make their way in both the philanthropy and fashion sectors, Thomas and Caldwell take inspiration from companies such as TOMS, as well as regular fashion brands like GAP and J. Crew. Thomas says that he would like people to think of buying their clothes from KNO the same way they would from these well-known brands.
KNO Clothing hopes to continue to expand and focuses on the power of young people to project the company’s image. There is a selection of internships featured on the company’s website. KNO also hopes to raise awareness of the issue of homelessness in the Chicago community with September’s Change of Pace 5K.Kelly Keenan is a junior at the University of Notre Dame, where she is studying Marketing and English.