Youme Clothing has a collaborative, repurposing approach to affect community growth and international connection.

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. Audrey Hepburn

Hepburn’s words describe the mission of Youme Clothing as we seek to renew and empower communities through collaborative repurposing projects, taking old things and making them new for the benefit of those in need.

I remember when my friend first shared the story behind this concept of Youme; I was so intrigued and inspired. A few years earlier, while living in Uganda, he had met a young boy in the village wearing nothing but a tattered women’s blouse. As he interacted with the boy, he had a burning question on his mind: How could he meet this child’s immediate need for clothing while making a deeper connection or a greater impact? He decided that he could meet the short-term need by clothing the young boy, and then meet a longer-term need by repurposing his rags into something new, which could be sold to fund a community project.

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I loved this approach, especially since I saw firsthand how it can affect a community when people have some “skin in the game” instead of just being spectators or recipients of charity. My family and I had spent several years working in Africa, forming relationships with local communities and organizations, so when I was asked to help make this unique concept a reality I was all in. We officially co-founded the clothing company as a nonprofit in 2012, and our shared passion to see Youme Clothing become a creative response to the deep, systemic needs in rural communities came to fruition.

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Youme Clothing uses its unique recycling model to collaborate with organizations in Uganda, Mozambique and Swaziland. Our local partners identify kids that need new clothing or school uniforms, which are expensive and often required to attend school. The children receive the new clothing or school uniform, which has been purchased in country to support the local economy, in exchange for one of their oldest pieces of clothing. Their old garments are brought back to the U.S., washed, cut, repurposed into one-of-a-kind patches, sewn onto Youme branded clothing and sold to fund further exchanges and projects.

Because a holistic model is essential to us, our blank shirts are sourced from ethical and eco-friendly companies. Volunteer sew groups in the U.S. get together in their homes, campuses or churches to create and sew the one-of-a-kind patches onto the clothing. This unique process ties local and international communities together, infusing a story of connection and love into each Youme shirt. Our finished products are then sold online and at events, with the proceeds funding further exchanges as well as a specific community-led development project like a water well, communal garden, school fees, or whatever our partner communities identify as their greatest need. It’s a beautiful “rags to resources” cycle.

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One of the main reasons this concept resonates so deeply with me is how it differs from the typical “hand-out” model by inviting the community to play a unique role in their own development and renewal. During a recent exchange this past summer in a Mozambican village, the chief’s son said something so simple and profound to the kids before they received their new clothing: “You are not receiving these clothes because you are poor. You are here because we need each other. We are working together to help each other.”

The seemingly small act of participating in the exchange can remind a child not only that he or she is worthy of receiving love, but that they have something worth giving as well. When we work together, putting you before me, great things can happen.

In just a few short years, we’ve clothed hundreds of children and helped many of them attend school by providing them with their own uniforms. They also get to experience the positive impact of the projects in their communities—access to clean water, gardens providing nourishment, months of school fees covered, supplies for students—and I have found it incredible to see this collaborative model come to life.

It is our hope that every patch sewn onto Youme Clothing is a reminder that we are all connected—that torn rags can become resources, broken things can become beautiful, and with a little creativity and sacrifice we can have a lasting impact in each other’s lives.