You shouldn’t have to choose between dressing well and doing good. Brothers and co-founders Alex Torrey and Jonathan Torrey have turned the classic white tee into a way to give back through their Athens-based clothing company, umano.
Umano features drawings from little kids, like a slightly crooked elephant done by Emanuel, on their soft signature fabric “omobono” tees, which is made from micro-modal. For every clothing piece sold, a backpack full of supplies makes its way to an impoverished child in America and around the world. So far, that has equated to 20,000+ backpacks given since the company’s inception in 2011.
The Torrey brothers are both graduates from the University of Georgia’s Terry School of Business and worked for the finance work world and the CIA prior to launching their apparel startup. Now, six employees and 11 interns later, umano is helping unleash the creativity of kids everywhere by encouraging art education. They’ve inspired learning through the gift of school supplies in Mexico, Ghana, Peru and all over the United States.
Hypepotamus talked to umano about what sparked the idea to merge design and children’s artwork, what kind of funding they are looking for, and why art programs are essential to the future generation of entrepreneurs.
What’s your pitch?
Yesterday’s retail model is dying. Young people are looking for a different shopping experience, we want products with a story. Umano is not an “e-commerce” company. We are leveraging technology to maximize the power of storytelling and build a lifestyle brand with e-commerce as our optimal distribution channel.
Umano is focused on supporting art education to empower kids to unleash their creativity. Studies show that art-centered schools outscore non-art-centered schools in academic achievement scores. We believe that art education increases a student’s ability to express ideas accurately, solve problems creatively, and to collaborate well with others.
What’s your current funding situation?
We’ve done the whole Kickstarter thing, we won a $100,000 convertible note at Pandoland in 2015, and we were featured on Shark Tank. We’re always looking to grow with awesome investor partners. We are looking to raise a $1M equity round.
You guys came from a family in education. How’d you get the idea for umano?
We were inspired since a young age by our parents, both teachers, to help kids help themselves succeed. Our parents taught us that education can empower kids to unleash their creativity and create their own path.
What made you think about merging kids art and product design?
There is a raw confidence in a kid’s drawing. Our idea was simple to showcase a kid’s drawing as a work of art. to design a beautiful canvas and get out of the way. We believe that you don’t have to choose between doing well and doing good. Art education funding is often the first to get cut in schools and this is unacceptable, in part because of a massive misconception that art education about learning to draw, we believe it is about learning to see.
Did you have a background on product/clothing design before this? If not, what challenges did you encounter?
We started umano with zero experience in design, e-commerce, retail, manufacturing or anything related to fashion. what we lacked in experience, we made up for in the ability to make irrational decisions. We have been on a super steep learning curve since the beginning. We have gotten quite comfortable on it, we like it that way.
How do you collect the kids art? Tell us about the tiny but mighty artists.
The way we collect the artwork from the kids is known as our Virtuous Cycle. When we go on a Giving Trip with one of our Giving Partner, we give backpacks full of school supplies, get to collaborate with the kids, and empower them to unleash their creativity. We have one rule in designing the artwork: to protect the integrity of the drawing.
Working with the little, future picassos is the best part about umano. The kids are super excited about their drawings and they can’t wait to share them with the world. They inspire us as much or more than we inspire them!
Why is the social enterprising component so important for your company?
Our mantra is to be the thing that starts the stuff. Art education is a cause that umano is super passionate about and social entrepreneurship is a way for us have the biggest impact we can to help empower as many kids as we can to unleash their creativity.
You’re concentrating on t-shirts right now. Do you expect to expand to other apparel?
We wanted to design and craft the perfect t-shirt first. We built our product line around several classic tees and then expanded to more seasonal tee silhouettes, shorts and dresses. We have a few other ideas in the works for the future, some of those may or may not be kid’s sized. Stay tuned!
Do you have a particular goal for this year — as far as how many backpacks you can give out?
Our Giving Goal for this year is 30,000 backpacks. Our longer term goal is to give 10 million backpacks by 2020.
What’s your revenue model?
Social entrepreneurship. Every product showcases a kid’s drawing and with every purchase, umano will give a backpack full of school supplies to empower a kid to unleash their creativity.
How does ATL weave into your story?
Atlanta is in our own backyard and we are serious about helping people in our own backyard. We are partnering with two awesome organizations in Atlanta that work with refugee youth. we will be doing several Giving Trips with those Giving Partners and will be showcasing the drawings of refugee youth from those communities in our Fall16 collection. We’ve also been very lucky to build some awesome relationships with some awesome people and organizations in Atlanta like the folks at Plywood People, the American Marketing Association, 22squared, Switchyards, and TechSquare Labs.
Are you hiring right now?
We are always looking for insanely awesome people to join our team and share our journey. We are currently looking for a chief digital officer.
All photos provided by umano.