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Clothing line targets college students to help benefit homeless

Courtesy of Christopher Setty

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KNO Clothing is looking to college students’ wardrobes to help end homelessness.

KNO Clothing, founded in October 2010 by Anthony Thomas and Stephen Caldwell, will be launching its spring-summer 2012 line in the upcoming weeks and is considering designing T-shirts specifically for college students.

“We’re really looking to build relationships with colleges and universities around the country, because we believe college students care about these things (ending homelessness) and we want to make a difference,” Thomas said. “Ohio State has been on the list of one of the places we might want to do something for.”

Thomas said he and Caldwell believe that if housing is an international human right, then clothing should be one also.

KNO Clothing houses homeless people throughout the United States and has been able to house about 134 people in Columbus alone, Thomas said.

Columbus is a leader in the movement to end homelessness, said Jake Maguire, director of communications for the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a partner with KNO Clothing.

“In Columbus, we work with the Community Shelter Board,” Maguire said. “They are housing all kinds of people all the time. They do amazing work.”

KNO Clothing began in Harrisburg, Pa., and first partnered with Bethesda Mission, a Pennsylvania group that helps the hungry and homeless, where Thomas and Caldwell volunteered while attending Messiah College.

Chuck Wingate, the executive director of Bethesda Mission, said he was skeptical about Thomas and Caldwell’s movement until he realized they thought it through.

“I got a call from Anthony Thomas one day and he and I talked, and at first I thought he was a bit naïve,” Wingate said. “We get a lot of people who are going to change the world, and homelessness is a very tough issue. After speaking for a few more minutes, it became clear that Anthony and Stephen had thought about what they were doing and they knew what they were getting into.”

Wingate said one couldn’t end homelessness by simply walking around unfamiliar neighborhoods offering help to those in need. He recommended students who want to get involved in the fight against homelessness contact a local organization, like Faith Mission in Columbus, and help out as part of a group.

KNO Clothing provides its partners with encouragement, time and money, Wingate said.

“(Thomas and Caldwell) don’t want to just send the stuff in a box and have someone else hand it out,” Wingate said. “They want to actually converse with the people who are actually receiving the help.”

Wingate said KNO Clothing usually provides the homeless with socks because those are necessities on cold nights.

In keeping with its socially-aware message, all clothing from the company is made in factories where workers receive fair wages and have decent working conditions. These factories are not all located in the United States, but Thomas said he and Caldwell have visited the factories themselves to witness the conditions.

All the shirts are made from organic cotton and consumer-recycled materials.

The name “KNO Clothing” is also based on social awareness, Thomas said.

“The word ‘kno’ came out of knowledge,” he said. “We believe that nobody should go without a hope, nobody should go without clothing.”

Maguire said ending homelessness is a completely achievable goal based on statistics and logic. He said 85 percent of those who are provided with permanent housing and ongoing basic utility services will not become homeless again.

Maguire compared ending homelessness to finding the cure for cancer.

“Nobody says about cancer, ‘Well, wish we didn’t have it and we’re going to manage it the best we can,'” Maguire said. “People are working tirelessly to end this disease and doctors believe that one day we’ll be able to do that. I don’t know why we think differently about social problems.”

KNO Clothing has helped house more than 12,000 people nationwide, Thomas said. About 50 percent of the group’s profits help the homeless and hungry.

“We’re building a movement of people who care and who want to make a difference,” he said, “and at the same time, we really think about impact and we think about sustainable fashion.”

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