York Apparel, now York Project, started out with a simple idea. Sell hats, and for every one purchased they would donate one hat, or article of clothing, to the homeless. When we first met them in March of 2014, they had donated over 850 articles of clothing. Less than a year later York Project has donated over 5,000 items.
At their next donation event, they expect to have over 30 people helping to distribute over 170 items. They have donated, not only in Lansing, but in cities across the country including; Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Nashville, Philadelphia, LA, Salt Lake City and Washington DC. They’ve gained recognition from USA Today and have recently teamed up with The Runway.
“We’ve been profitable since the very first day,” says Josh, recognizing how lucky they’ve been, and continue to be. But that’s not the only way they’ve been successful.
York Project is selling more than clothes. Josh has always heard you can’t rely on a social mission to build a company, but so far, they have been pretty successful at building both.
“Everyone wants human connection,” says Josh, “It’s just a basic need.” That human connection or interaction is something, many don’t realize, that the homeless are starved for. Everyone Josh interacts with on a daily basis wants to give back, they just don’t know how. By offering a simple way for people to help, Josh is helping to solve the problem on both sides.They are giving both parties the opportunity get what they need. “When people get to go out themselves and hand the items out to people, that’s where the value comes in.”
And people have definitely stepped up to the opportunity. Josh has had people call him and ask for donations to take on vacation and, even though he mostly facilitates the events now, he usually takes a few items to donate no matter where goes. Even on family vacations. And now, Josh plans on expanding their reach to Seattle while there for an internship this summer.
“People like to do good things and if you make it easy,” says Josh, “there’s no reason people wouldn’t.”
New Stuff, Same Mission
The newest addition to the company is their first ever complete line. Instead of just ordering hats as they are needed, York Project’s Spring Line offers new styles of hats, hoodies, t-shirts and long sleeved shirts. With this line, Josh hopes to continue their success and impact into the summer. “Many shelters get volunteers in the winter, but people forget about helping in the summer.” Josh is stocking up on donations and hoping to keep up their sales and momentum during the warm months.
The partnership with The Runway has given them access to new equipment, new channels to push sales and great opportunities for mentorship. But, even with so many great opportunities, the roots of the company are still intact, including Josh’s most loyal employee, his mom. Though the hats are made by a third party, Josh and his mom still do a lot of the sewing to add the York logo.
This goes hand in hand with the philosophy Josh, and many other businesses, are standing by, “Businesses are switching to be more people oriented,” says Josh, “It’s just a better way to be.”
The business wouldn’t exist without the social mission and Josh knows it takes great people to help perpetuate that mission. “You can’t be successful without good people.”
The people pushing York Project forward are going to be instrumental as Josh looks toward expansion and growth. They currently have 4 employees at MSU and next year Josh plans to target the rest of the Big Ten and get representatives on each campus. And, eventually, Josh would love to be able to employ the homeless.
While he’s had his challenges being a full-time student and running a full-time business, Josh’s ultimate goal is to keep the business going after he graduates and it’s the people he’s working with that will help him do that. “People are always asking for things to do, and it’s hard to hand stuff off.”
But, that’s not stopping York Project from growing, reaching out, making a difference, and helping others to do the same. East Lansing, according to Josh, has been a great place to make a big impact. “There are so many fortunate kids in this college but 2 miles away there is such a large homeless population.” Fortunately, there are also a lot of kids that want to make a difference and York can help them do that.
Want a Fun Way to Help?
Find them on social media to take part in their photo contest. Simply share your favorite pic of yourself in your York Project gear, tag them, and be entered to win a free beanie or tee. Get creative, they pick the coolest picture!
You can buy their stuff, volunteer or learn more about their mission on their website.