Student entrepreneur supports homeless with hats
Spotting a $1, colored beanie at the hardware store doesn’t typically lead to an effort to end homelessness.
Though supply chain management junior Josh York didn’t expect it, that’s exactly what happened.
“I was working at Aco Hardware and they sold these beanies for a dollar,” York said. “So I bought one and sewed my last name into it, York.”
He wore it to one of his band’s concerts and everyone wanted one.
“Being a business person, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll make 20 more and sell them to all of my friends,” York said. “So I started doing that and selling out of them every concert.”
From there, York said it took off and prompted him to create his clothing line, York Apparel.
At the same time, York was really into the Detroit Movement and its message.
“I thought to myself, I’m doing something cool selling hats,” York said. “Why don’t I do something with it to give back to Detroit?”
York followed the Tom’s shoes model and donated a hat to a homeless person in Detroit for every one he sold.
His business expanded and he’s now donated across the country in major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Nashville and Washington D.C.
In a year and a half, York has sold more than 2,000 products in 28 states and five countries.
“I get sales from Malaysia and Australia,” York said. “I don’t know why, but random people find it online.”
Though the business is taking hold, he’s trying to switch the name to York Project. He wants to convey that it’s more than a clothing company — it’s a project to make the world a better place.
Something that started off as trying to get some extra cash from friends, York said, led him to a lot of great ideas.
“My long-term goal is to fix homelessness,” said York. “My goal is to set up a manufacturing plant in Detroit, employ homeless people, pay them, and also provide them a place to live upstairs.”
He wants to make it a two-year program, after which participants graduate and will hopefully be on their feet.
Eventually, York hopes to funnel money from each sale into other cities as well. Now, he just donates wherever he goes.
“For example, I went to New York City on vacation last spring break and took 50 hats with me to donate,” York said. “I just thought it would be cool to donate them wherever I was and spread the reach out.”
Hats are York’s main product, but hoodies, crew necks, tank tops and T-shirts are also part of his project to help others.
“The whole message and mission I’m trying to get across is: doing good deeds for your community,” York said. “Like we send so much money overseas, as the U.S., but there’s also people that live a mile away that need help just as much as anyone else in the world.”
For the most part, York hand-delivers his products to the shelters. Giving something to a homeless person on the street is his favorite thing to do.
“One guy asked me for money and I didn’t have my wallet on me, but I actually took the hat off of my head and gave it to him,” York said. “That was probably the coolest interaction ever because you could just see the look on his face like ‘someone cares enough about me to do that.’”
Between making his products, hand-delivering the majority of them and working to end homelessness, one may wonder how York has time for anything else.
He’s talked to his parents about dropping out of college, though they didn’t take him seriously.
He would really like to focus on the York Project, but he also wants to get the most out of his college years. York said once he graduates, he’ll be able to manage his business full time.
“This is the time to do something just because you have the most amazing network of people and there’s so much talent in East Lansing,” York said. “Don’t wait.”