Local streetwear brand York Project donates living essentials to homeless shelters with every purchase.
As a kid, Livonia resident Josh York wanted to be an inventor.
But not the usual inventor. Not the kind that aspires to make a flying car or a time machine. Instead, York wanted to create more opportunities for the less fortunate.
He is doing this with his streetwear brand he built in his parents’ basement, York Project. The social enterprise, which sells trendy T-shirts, hoodies and hats, has donated over $91,000 to homeless shelters in Detroit.
“I want to create things,” York says, “(and) do it in a way that can provide for myself and provide opportunities for others.”
The 26-year-old always had a knack for business. With a big heart and a big vision, he founded startups for everything from T-shirts to lawn care. York Project was born in 2013 when he was a 19-year-old college student and a drummer in a local band. “My first product was a maroon beanie that I bought from a hardware store where I was working,” York says. “It was a 99-cent beanie — I wore it to a concert. I threw on my last name and sold it … and it just kind of kept going from there.”
He promoted sales by advertising via word-of-mouth and social media.
“My band had some notoriety in the local music scene,” he says. “We would play for 1,200 people sometimes a night, and I would go up and down the lines before every show and give every person in line a sticker and tell (them) ‘This is my company.’ ”
Yet York Project remained a side hustle until he turned 24. After graduating from Michigan State University, he worked a corporate job for a year as he developed his brand. York also had to endure a risky back surgery to remove a rare tumor found on his spine at 23.
“A big reason I quit my job and went full time on (York Project) was because I realized things were delicate,” he says. “I might never have this chance again. While I’m healthy enough, I wanted to go for it. And I’m glad I did.”
After he committed to York Project full time, the business expanded quicker than expected. His screen-printing hobby is now a fully manufactured business. With every customer purchase of a T-shirt or hoodie, he donates essentials like bottled water and socks to homeless shelters locally and nationwide.
He also moved from his parents’ basement to a string of retail locations. His latest move was to a retail and production shop at 1314 Holden St. in Detroit which opened in August. The space is shared with Rebel Nell, a jewelry brand that hires women facing barriers to employment. Molly Layman, 51, store manager of Rebel Nell, says the collaboration felt “natural.”
“We both love making and selling products, but it’s not so much about the product as it is what the products support — which is our social missions,” she says. “We’re just looking forward to being a one-stop shop for creating a sense of community and also creating opportunities and jobs.”
And York has a team to help him. His 10-person staff both sew and assist with the development of the startup. But, he is looking to employ more people who need jobs like the homeless or low-income residents.
“I’ve been given so many great opportunities,” he says. “And I realized that not everyone has (those) opportunities. …It’s always been my mission to try and figure out how I can pay that forward and how can I use the opportunities that I have to provide opportunities for others.”
Benjamin Sill, a sophomore at Colombia University, interned at York Project over the summer. “(It’s) not like the typical corporate culture where the boss is someone you may never get to talk to. It’s a really hands-on experience,” he says.
The apparel is sold online, at the retail store and in a few local boutiques. York Project has also manufactured clothing for a number of companies like Planters Peanuts, Shinola and Chips Ahoy.
“We’re going to continue to move forward,” York says. “I see us getting bigger and bigger orders and working with bigger clients and being able to hire more and more people around the city.”