Seattle's Union Gospel Mission Launching Clothing Line

Mar 4, 2014

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is getting into the fashion merchandising business with the launch of a clothing line called OLU, or Others Like Us.

The line will include T-shirts, a hoodie, a baseball cap and a beanie featuring a logo that looks like a face. One T-shirt design will also feature a photo of a homeless person.

"If we’re taking a photo of a random homeless person and putting them on there, that’s like doing a drive-by," said Jeff Lilley, president of the downtown Seattle mission. "In this case, what we’re actually doing is we’re coming in and saying, ‘These are people we know. These are people whose stories we’ve been part of.’ And these are people who have themselves said, ‘Yes I want to be a part of this cause in helping them go further.’” 

Lilley says the initial line of clothing, which will be sold online, is part of a more ambitious plan: to have some of the homeless men and women repurpose and refashion donated clothing to create a line of handmade garments. He says the goal is to have a self-sustaining business that provides jobs and opportunities for the people his organization serves.

The first face to be featured on an OLU shirt is R.J. Burrows, 56, who has been living at the mission for the past eight months. He became homeless after he lost his job as a facilities maintenance worker, then could not find work before his unemployment benefit ran out. He's currently enrolled in a mission program that provides shelter as well as counseling for those wanting to launch their own businesses.

Burrows volunteered to be one of the first T-shirt models because he wants to help bridge a connection between the public and those who are homeless.

“We’ve been labeled as ne'er-do-wells or as addicts, or whatever. And with that labeling, we lose all the respect that we really deserve," he said.

Burrows says he also hopes to gain public recognition that he hopes will help start his wholesale tobacco business.

Those who are featured on the T-shirts will also be featured in an online marketing campaign.