MeWe Connected: Aloha For People
Q&A with Brian Poage, co-founder of
MeWe’s denim cactus jackets are upcycled with the textile waste from Aloha for People, a sustainable clothing company manufactured right here in LA, while also making a social impact in Hawaii, Guatemala, and Napal.
Hi! Can you introduce yourself and share a bit about Aloha for People?
Hey, my name is Brian Poage and I’m one of the co-founders of Aloha for People. We are based in Hermosa Beach, California and just opened a retail shop in Redondo Beach. Aloha for People creates new ways to provide clean water and jobs to people in need. It started with aloha shirts made in downtown LA from fabric hand-woven in Guatemala. With every shirt sold, we provide a child in Guatemala access to clean water for 2 years. Since our inception, we have been able to expand the model outside Guatemala and now work in Nepal and Hawai’i as well with a new shirt coming out to represent our home state of California.
Describe how Aloha For People was born?
My wife, Emily, and I were searching for more meaning in our lives a few years ago and both happened to read Blake Mycoskie’s book Start Something that Matters about his journey to create TOMS Shoes. The book struck a chord with us and we decided to utilize our passions and skill sets to create a company that could make a positive impact on humanity. Emily has a background in apparel design and merchandising and I have a background in project management and have always loved traditional aloha shirts. We decided to make aloha style shirts using fabric from Guatemala so we could spread their culture while also working to provide clean water in the country.
Aloha For People sources hand-woven fabrics from Guatemala and Nepal. Why those countries, specifically?
We started in Guatemala because we knew they had a terrible water crisis. Nearly 95% of their water is unsuitable for human consumption and their leading cause of childhood death is water-borne illness. Guatemala is also known for their unique and vibrant textiles. We knew that we had to create something that people would want to buy and people got really excited when we made our first shirt samples using Guatemalan fabric. After our success in Guatemala, we wanted to expand the business model and knew that Nepal had a similar water crisis and unique textiles. The patterns were just enough different that it created a great look for our products.
Tell us about your partnerships with Ecofiltro and Wine To Water. How have they been a catalyst for ethical change in Guatemala and Nepal?
We have been incredibly fortunate with our water partners. Both are incredible organizations who do great things regarding water. Ecofiltro was founded by Philip Wilson and makes water filtration systems using clay, sawdust, and colloidal silver. All the water filters are made in Guatemala by Guatemalans using native materials in their state-of-the-art facility outside the city of Antigua. Their goal is to provide 1 million rural people in Guatemala access to clean water by the year 2020.
Wine To Water is based in Boone, North Carolina and was founded by Doc Hendley while he was bartending and playing music around Raleigh. He started the organization by hosting parties and using the money he raised to provide clean water to people in need. Today Wine To Water does work in Nepal, Haiti, East Africa, and the Amazon. They focus on more permanent infrastructure solutions in rural areas.
Awesome! Also, let's talk clean water that goes to Hawaii: That state isn't really in need of clean drinking water, so I'm curious what the clean water is used for?
Our mission is to create new ways to provide clean water and jobs. While there is plenty of clean drinking water in Hawai’i, they are facing a huge issue with dirty ocean water. Poor infrastructure and stormwater runoff create high levels of bacteria on the islands constantly and we have partnered with the Surfrider Foundation’s O’ahu Chapter to help provide clean ocean water access on the islands. They have a group called the Blue Water Task Force that conducts bacterial tests of ocean water at different locations around O’ahu. When the tests indicate the bacteria levels are higher than the EPA recommended amount for human contact, they work with local municipalities to close the beaches, warn people around the water, and then they continue to work to provide more permanent solutions to prevent the high levels of bacteria all together.
Since Aloha for People started, how has water and job accessibility changed in Guatemala and Nepal? Can you share a personal story?
Aloha for People has provided nearly 1,000 children in Guatemala and Nepal access to clean water over the past year. While we are extremely excited, we are just getting started. The main reason we want to source fabric from Guatemala and Nepal is because it helps to employ mostly women who wouldn’t otherwise have means for employment. The last time we were in Guatemala we met a group of Mayan families living at the bottom of a valley. They were incredibly poor and lived in mud huts, but the women made incredible textiles. A friend of ours in Guatemala had been working with this village for the past two years to help them build houses out of cinder blocks and concrete so they would not have to live in mud huts anymore. We have been working with them to purchase fabric from them and use their unique patterns as part of our line. Our hopes is that we can help employ them and that their children can drink clean water, stay in school, and help end the cycle of poverty.
What is the company’s process like - how do you get the design ideas from Hawaii to fabrics sourced from Guatemala to the manufacturers in LA to people wearing your shirt?
We have a really fantastic system of suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers. We work with the fabric weavers and designers to use patterns that we are confident will sell and then purchase the fabric in rolls. The rolls are then brought to our manufacturing team in downtown Los Angeles where we cut, sew, and finish the shirts. We have worked with this team designing the fit of all our shirts, creating samples, and constantly fine-tuning our patterns. While most of our shirt sales are online through our website www.alohaforpeople.com, we have some amazing retail partners that have helped us along the way to spread the aloha. Some of our favorites are SEED People’s Market in Costa Mesa, ET Surf in Hermosa Beach, and Cambium Surf Shop in St. Augustine, Florida. We also just opened up our own little retail shop on the beach in Redondo Beach called The Aloha Bungalow. Emily runs the shop and helps to sell our products along with other great beach essentials.
Not only is your company making stylish shirts but they are also making a social impact. What keeps you motivated to resist fast fashion and live sustainably?
Besides providing clean water and jobs, our company’s mission is to be an example of sustainability. We make all of our tees and tank tops using 100% organic cotton which uses a third less water to grow than standard cotton and uses no pesticides. Our shirts are made in the United States so we can manage quality and we guarantee that our shirts will last a long time. We believe that if people spend more money on fewer items that are well made, our planet would be in a much better state and we will continue to pursue that dream.
It’s awesome how much you appreciate and care about helping others! What do you love most about your job?
Helping the future is what truly motivates me. I believe that if children are given the chance to go to school, stay healthy, and have parents who are properly employed that they have the potential to do anything they set their minds to. I also love seeing how many people in this world truly want to be part of a solution and are excited to support our company.
What does the future of Aloha For People look like?
Our goal is to grow our partnerships in Guatemala, Nepal, and Hawai’i and to expand our product lines. We are planning a sweatshirt and some new shirt designs for our winter line this year and will be introducing a California Heritage shirt that pays respects to our home state that helped shape us and influence the company. We are partnering with the Surfrider Foundation’s Los Angeles chapter to help provide clean ocean water access in the Santa Monica Bay. We hope to build the brand into a global company focused on clean water and jobs and to make a profound impact on humanity.
Thank you so much, Brian!
Interview conducted by Christina Monroe.
Christina is a junior at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, studying Communications and Shakespeare Performance. We're excited to have her as part of the MeWe team for the summer!