Three and a half years ago, Josh York was living in Livonia, Mich,, going to community college and playing in a band called Yours Truly. After spending plenty of money on screen-printed t-shirts for gigs and other band events, York had the idea to screen-print t-shirts for the band himself. After awhile, he began playing around with different designs and started to get more creative, using his own name on different items. Thus, The York Project was born.
“We were spending so much money on merchandise and I thought, ‘I can make this,’” said York. “I started watching YouTube videos and bought a screen-printing press online. Luckily, my mom had a sewing machine for me to use too. After that I started sewing my name on beanies and other stuff and just decided to go for it. After posting my stuff online, things really started to take off.”
And take off it did. Flash forward to present day, 2016. The York Project has sold merchandise in 27 states and seven different countries, managing to double its revenue every year since its inception. To keep up with demand, some merchandise has had to be outsourced: cut and sew products are made in Peru, hats are made in China and screen-printed merchandise is made right here in Lansing.
“In the beginning, I used to hand sew everything with my mom’s help,” said York. “I don’t give her credit enough. She’s the main reason all of this is still here. She still makes all my packaging, taping and stamping everything when it goes out for delivery. She’s incredible.”
Most recently, The York Project was accepted as one of five companies (out of 48 teams that applied) into Conquer, Michigan State University’s business accelerator program. The program is a huge boon for The York Project, providing $20,000 to be used to further the company’s endeavors. Besides investing in the company, the Conquer program provides businesses with space to work, mentorship from successful entrepreneurs and other resources (including legal advice and development assistance).
But what sets The York Project apart from other clothing companies is it’s give back mentality. For every piece of merchandise sold, The York Project donates another piece of clothing to a homeless man or woman.
“I grew up spending a lot of time in the Detroit Metro area,” said York. “I always thought it was a great cause to try and help.”
So far, the company has managed to make more than 10,000 donations in 19 cities across the United States. York is headed to the east coast in a few weeks, which will increase the amount of cities donated in to 23.
“The big thing I always push about The York Project is the impact,” said York. “What can you do to make an impact in your community? It’s not hard to make a difference. As cool as it is to make things and sell it to people, I think the coolest bit is that it inspires people to do more. Help out the people in your community and do what you can to give back.”
While The York Project is off to a great start, York says he has much bigger plans in store.
“I often prototype my own stuff before starting to market it for sale,” said York. “This summer, one of my goals is to employ a homeless man or woman and have them work as a contracted employee with The York Project.”
Several companies in Detroit already do this kind of work, but York wants to take it a step further. Instead of relying on donations to make employing contractors feasible, he wants to incorporate other business models into the fold, integrating corporate and nonprofit ideas together to create a self-sustainable business.
As of May 2016, York has officially graduated from Michigan State University with his bachelor’s degree in Supply Chain Management (along with a minor in German) and has accepted a job offer to work for Abercrombie & Fitch as part of their international sourcing team in the fall. While excited to pursue a career in fashion supply chain work, York isn’t planning to put The York Project on hold.
“My parents and I have discussed what the next steps would be after I graduate and start looking into other employment options,” said York. “We’ll see what happens. Both [of my parents] are so supportive along with the rest of my family. They say it takes a village; I’m lucky enough to have one built in.”
For more information on The York Project, visit yorkproject.com.