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Meet Lauren Wallis of YOUME Clothing

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lauren Wallis.

Lauren, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In 2012, a group of close friends and I co-founded YOUME Clothing, a nonprofit with a mission to empower communities by helping provide access to education and create jobs through our repurposed apparel and accessories! A few years before that, I had graduated from Westmont College with a degree in Sociology and spent two summers working and living in a home for orphaned children in Swaziland, Africa. As I spent time tutoring and living daily life with the kids and their caretakers I also witnessed the beautiful and the ugly work of aid organizations firsthand. When I came back home to San Diego I was still processing my experiences and I knew it would impact my career path, but wasn’t quite sure how.

As I wrestled through this, I began working for my Dad’s business in Carlsbad, he runs an independent sales, sourcing & manufacturing company that works mainly with surf, skate and snow brands. It was an incredible opportunity to grow and learn a ton about the industry, and little did I know it was setting me up with skills and insight I would need on my journey to establish YOUME.

During this time, one of our co-founders was also living and working in Africa, in a small community called Kito Village in Uganda. The inspiration for YOUME concept was born as he saw a cycle of dependency growing as well-intentioned organizations continually dropped off clothes, supplies, food, etc. with little to no involvement on the part of the community. One day he was sitting in the village and saw a young boy walking around wearing an old, tattered, women’s blouse — and the idea of a clothing exchange struck him. He began dreaming of a collaborative process where we could meet a child’s immediate need for clothing but also meet longer-term needs of the community, all the while disrupting the typical one-way handout model. In this YOUME model, everyone involved becomes both a giver and receiver, creating a deeper connection in a creative and more sustainable way.

A few years later, we became good friends and he shared this story with me. I instantly fell in love with the collaborative repurposing approach and the way it invited the children and community to take ownership in the development process in a simple yet profound way. We established YOUME Foundation (dba YOUME clothing) as an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2012, but we had full-time jobs so it slowly grew as our passion project on the side. About two years ago we faced a crossroads and I knew we needed someone working on it full-time if we really wanted to increase our impact as an organization. So I decided to take the leap, quit my job and pursue YOUME full-time to see what it could be. It’s been a wild journey ever since, as I currently manage and run all aspects as Co-Founder and President with the help of an amazing small group of volunteers!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I always say the startup life (and the non-profit life for that matter) is not for the faint of heart! It’s an ever-changing process of working through new challenges while keeping true to the mission. In the beginning, it was really hard for us to gain momentum and exposure with all of our team having full-time jobs, we were spread thin and not able to give it our full attention. However, even with that, it was really incredible to see all the partnerships, projects and events we were able to be a part of. We were still able to clothe hundreds of kids and provide several communities with clean water. Never underestimate the power of a little grit and a lot of passion, it goes a long way!

Please tell us about YOUME Clothing.
YOUME Clothing is a nonprofit with a mission to empower communities in need by taking something old and making it new. We use our unique repurposing model to create apparel & accessories that help provide children with access to education and create jobs with our partners in Africa and in San Diego!

One of the ways we help provide access to education is through uniform exchanges. Our partners in Africa identify children that need new school uniforms (which are often expensive and required to attend school). We purchase the uniforms from one of their local businesses or hire a tailor to make them, and the children receive this new uniform in exchange for giving up a tattered, old piece of clothing. We bring their traded old clothes back to the US to be washed, cut and sewn into one-of-a-kind fabric patches on our YOUME branded apparel and accessories!

So every YOUME item has a unique, repurposed fabric patch that reminds you of a kid in Africa that is going to school because you bought that shirt. Our products are sold online and at events, with the proceeds going back towards more clothing exchanges in a different community, while also funding a specific community-led project (like clean water projects, communal gardens, school meal programs, etc.) It’s a beautiful cycle of YOU and ME working together, “turning rags into resources!”

Currently, we are really excited about two new developments with our partners in Africa and San Diego.

The first one being the accessory line we are expanding to help provide jobs for the artisans we work with in developing countries, giving them a place to sell their goods on the global marketplace. Our partner in Mozambique is in the process of building a Training Center where weavers and metalworkers get paid above the standard living wage, get skills training and build community. We started designing woven totes and purses with their weavers and they’ve been some of our top selling items! They are beautifully handcrafted and we love telling the story of who made them.

And secondly, we also started working with the IRC in San Diego on a job training program for refugee women. We interviewed, trained and hired a wonderful woman from Somalia as a part-time contractor and she sews almost all of our Capulana Neckties and sews some of the patches on our shirts. This has helped her supplement her family’s income, learn a new skill, practice her English, and increase her confidence entering the workforce in the US. We recently received funding from The San Diego Foundation that will make it possible to grow this program with her and more women this year!

Ultimately, it’s bigger than a shirt or a bag. We want all of our products to tie our local and international communities together, infusing a story of connection, love and empowerment into each YOUME item!

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Since every part of our process has led us to where we are today, I don’t know if I would necessarily want to go back and change anything! I do think there are some projects where it would have been beneficial to have reached out and asked for help sooner, or not worry so much about having every perfect detail nailed down before launching a new product or idea. Sometimes you have to take the risk and figure it out along the way! I always remind myself that all the hard work, late nights and learning curves are part of creating something I’m really proud of and hopefully making the world a better place too!

Pricing:

  • Apparel: $20 – 55
  • Accessories: $10-65

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Cori Dunton, Kristen Rider, Mikey Diggs

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