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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v9n48 (12/01/2010) » Five Questions With...

Dan Gigante: Entrepreneur

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Dan Gigante: Entrepreneur

It’s built on a simple premise: you buy a shirt and someone who needs a shirt, gets a shirt. Gigante, co-founder of the Elma web services company Clevermethod, recently sold his stake in that company and launched his online t-shirt venture You and Who. ( Gigante solicits designs from local artists, who receive a share of the sales, and donates one-for-one t-shirts to local charities such as the Altamont Program, Compass House and Plymouth Crossroads. So far, You and Who features original designs by artists representing charities in Buffalo, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia and Seattle, with the hope for more cities to come.

What compelled you to leave a successful business that you helped build from the ground level up and start another?

The idea for You and Who came to me about a year ago and the feeling of wanting to pursue it kept growing stronger. When JetBue announced in August their All-You-Can-Jet promotion, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to launch my new venture and visit as many cities as possible while keeping costs to a minimum. Also, the timing was almost 10 years to the day I co-founded clevermethod - it seemed like it was an appropriate point to close one chapter and start another. Once I made the decision to move forward with You and Who, everything came together quickly.

Where did the inspiration and business model for You and Who come from?

I watched an interview with Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Tom’s Shoes, and had an a-ha moment for what would become You and Who. I loved the idea of giving a staple, such as clothing, that would be used by someone who truly needs it. Because I was visiting cities across the country, I wanted to take things a step further and add a community component to You and Who’s mission. That’s when I decided to tap into artists and graphic designers from each city I visited to come up with shirt designs in line with various themes, the first being “New Beginnings.” For each shirt that sells with an artist’s design, they will receive $1 compensation and the matching donated item will return to that artist’s community. What I love about this is that not only does it give artists a national platform to showcase their work, but it also gives them a sense of ownership over the process of helping their own community.

What has the response to You and Who been like so far? Can it be both a profitable and charitable enterprise?

Everyone that learns about the concept, loves it. I’ve been getting a lot of support from people that like the idea of directly impacting the country’s homeless population and others in need, and as a result, they want to contribute beyond just purchasing apparel and are offering volunteer services. Also, I’ve gotten a tremendous response from the shelters and non-profit organizations You and Who is donating these items to. Many times, the donations they receive are of used items. While any donations help, they rarely receive brand new goods. Because of that, producing quality products is one of You and Who’s top priorities.

You and Who is a for-profit company whose core mission is to give back to others. Certainly, an organization like You and Who can be both profitable and charitable because it essentially serves two purposes: providing clothing to those who need it, and to those who simply want it. The advantage of being a for-profit entity allows You and Who the flexibility and capacity to grow and continue helping as many people as possible.

There’s no shortage of donations/cheap shirts available to the homeless. In your experience, does it mean more to the homeless to be able to receive a higher quality/more fashionable donation than they may be accustomed?

After visiting about 20 homeless shelters and organizations, it was clear that they do receive a lot of donations - but rarely new clothing. As I mentioned earlier, offering quality, brand new apparel is what sets You and Who apart from other organizations. Making a donation of any kind to any charity is rewarding, but it’s this particular component of You and Who that makes me especially proud of the products we put out and what receiving one of our shirts would mean to someone who doesn’t have the luxury of receiving or buying new things.

Have you spotted anyone around town wearing one of your shirts?

I haven’t yet but I think it will be a really fun moment the first time I run into someone wearing a You and Who shirt. I know that when I do see someone wearing a shirt, I’ll ask them about it to see what they can tell me. It’d be a great way to hear directly from my customers what they understand to be You and Who’s mission.

BONUS: Why did you decide to go national right off the bat? How has the process of building relationships across the country worked out?

As I mentioned, JetBlue’s All-You-Can-Jet allowed me to visit many cities at a relatively low cost, where I was able to meet with various shelters and hold the Call For Artists events. It was during this 30-day time frame that I wanted to maximize the launch of You and Who and spread awareness of the company’s mission throughout the country. Had it not been for the opportunity to travel as extensively throughout the U.S. through JetBlue, I probably would have launched locally first; however, it was too great an opportunity to forego.

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