Fine Living Lancaster
Hey Lancaster, Are You in the Kno?
Published in Fine Living Lancaster
Issue Number Eighteen • May, 2011
By Lauren Brown
When I say the words, ‘social entrepreneur,’ what comes to your mind? I know you are reading this magazine to relax, but stay with me. Some people would immediately think of the most famous example of a social entrepreneur, Tom’s Shoes. On the other hand, some of you may be sitting there in your comfortable seat at Barnes and Noble wondering what the term means. A social entrepreneur is someone who uses entrepreneurial business techniques to create social change. The basic idea of Tom’s shoes is that for every pair of shoes consumers purchase from their website, the company will give away a pair of shoes to a person in need. Being that Tom’s is based out of San Diego, you may wonder whether or not there are similar companies in our area. I’m glad you asked.
There are two recent college graduates who are changing the world one article of clothing at a time. Steven Caldwell and Anthony Thomas are the cofounders of KNO Clothing, which has its operations based in Philadelphia. Steve and Anthony met during their time at Messiah College, where the idea of making t-shirts began to germinate. I had the opportunity to interview co-founder, Anthony Thomas, at the KNO Clothing Launch Party and ask him a few questions. Anthony and I discussed the grassroots of KNO Clothing, as well as the beginning of his relationship with the other cofounder, Steve Caldwell. “Steve and I lived on the same floor for a year [at Messiah College]. I discovered that Steve would design his own t-shirts. He would splatter paint on them, and I really liked the designs and concept. In fact, I purchased some t-shirts as graduation gifts for my friends.”
Following their graduation from Messiah, “Steve moved to Philadelphia and I [Anthony] stayed in Harrisburg. We kept in touch and I would often tell Steve that he should start his own clothing company.” Anthony continued, “Steve and I started to think more seriously about a fashion company and at the same time we both were encountering homelessness. With our interest in fashion, our experience in business, and our passion to end homelessness, KNO was formed.” The light bulb clicked on and KNO Clothing’s goal would be to end homelessness. Becoming aware is the first step to social change. Anthony and Steve were two entrepreneurs ready for their next step of picking a location to begin the change. They decided to select Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
One of the first questions that entered my brain when first coming across KNO Clothing and their goal to end homelessness was, ‘Why Harrisburg?’ According to the Point in Time Survey conducted by the Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness, approximately 50,000 people live in Harrisburg, but 615 go to bed homeless each and every night. The most shocking number is that out of those 615 people experiencing homelessness, 182 are children. Anthony went on to describe why KNO Clothing selected Harrisburg. “Steve and I went to [Messiah] College near Harrisburg. We have fond memories of the city and felt that it would be a good place to start our philanthropic work. Harrisburg is small enough that we can measure our impact, but it has a lot of need. There are a lot of children and families who are experiencing homelessness in Harrisburg and we wanted to help bring positive change in their lives.”
1. Select city where the philanthropic work would occur: Check
2. Design innovative t-shirts and sweatshirts: Done
3. Launch a website: Got it
But ultimately, how does KNO Clothing work?
For you eager online shoppers, here is the breakdown. An inhabitant of Lancaster reads Lauren Brown’s article entitled, “Hey Lancaster! Are You in the KNO?” That consumer realizes they are, in fact, not in the “KNO,” and thus, visits www.knoclothing.com to gaze at all of KNO’s impressive merchandise. The next step is to purchase one of those previously mentioned awesome pieces of merchandise. What happens next is what makes KNO Clothing different from your typical clothing company. For every purchase, they give an article of clothing away to a person experiencing homelessness. Wait, there is more. KNO Clothing also uses a portion of your purchase to fund the Bethesda Mission, which is a local organization based in Harrisburg to fight homelessness. This approach provides temporary relief, but also places funds toward a long-term solution.
You + Computer + Sweet T-Shirt + $ = KNO Clothing + The ability to change lives
Easy enough, right? Anthony states, “We are creating a revolution in the fashion industry. We hope that people will start to think more about the impact of their purchases. We strive to be as environmentally friendly as possible and we provide a way in which our customers can help transform lives.” KNO Clothing initiates a challenge for Lancaster County. Anthony and Steve not only want consumers to start thinking about the impact our wallets make, but also to begin respecting the homeless population. “We also hope that people will start to treat those who are experiencing homelessness with dignity. We want to humanize the man or woman who we walk across on the sidewalk. It is okay to look them in the eye, and talk to them. We can all do something to help change that person’s life.”
Congratulations inhabitants of Lancaster. You are officially in the “KNO.” Anthony and Steve have a challenge for you, and so do I. Spread the word! If each follower of Fine Living Lancaster tells one person about social entrepreneurs and their goal of changing the world one purchase at a time, we could change the course of thousands of lives. We could end homelessness forever. As I said before, becoming aware is the first step to social change. You are aware, now go change the world. www.knoclothing.com