Sioux Falls, SD
For some, it might be hard to fathom... but one man in KELOLAND wants you to believe something as simple as the shirt on your back could change someone's life. He's made it his life's mission to use clothing to empower people.
"We help our neighbors across the street and across the sea," James Barnett said.
Barnett is the founder of the non-profit clothing brand "Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself". His designer products are made sweat-shop free.
"We sell shirts, we sell hats, we sell even some products that we get to make in the countries we serve,” Barnett said.
However, this isn't your average online retailer. If you choose to buy, your money won't be going into Barnett's pocket. 100-percent of your proceeds go to a "neighbor" of your choice.
"When checking out online you can pick for your profits to help somebody transitioning out of homelessness. Or you can choose for you profits to help provide a school uniform to a child in a developing country," Barnett said.
While the organization just recently took root in South Dakota's largest city, Barnett says he got the calling to start it seven years ago. It all started with a defining moment in his faith.
"I grew up a Christian, but I don't know if I could say I really followed Christ,” Barnett said, "As I spent more time with people in poverty I realized, this is for me and I want to join people, not to know of poverty or not to know of the poor but to know the poor and to join them."
At the age of 24, that's just what he did.
The Florida native made the decision to become homeless. He traded in his high-paying job for a pallet under a bridge.
"Eating out of dumpsters and sleeping out of cardboard boxes, it's a very romantic idea right. It can easily sound super cool but it was so depressing,” Barnett said.
Through the struggle, his faith kept him pushing towards what he believes was his divine purpose.
"I had a purpose out there, to go love people. To sit on a park bench and just love people by way of listening to them tell me about their lives, Barnett said.
That opportunity came when he met a homeless man he calls "gator" in search of a construction job. The only thing holding him back from applying was the need for work boots.
"we got him the work boots, he got the job, and after a few months he was actually off the streets. I thought whoa! That was like my porch light moment you know,” Barnett said.
That's when Barnet realized clothing could empower people to rise above their obstacles. A year after starting the organization, a Kenyan man inspired him to expand his efforts globally, helping children in Kenya and Haiti purchase school uniforms.
"A uniform is a requirement for a child to go to school. Education is free, but if they can't have a uniform, they can't go to school,” Barnett said.
Today, Clothe Your Neighbor has grown to be much more, but the goal remains the same, using clothing as a means to help those near and far.
"We are the bridge between what is, and what could be. What we look out and see in our world does not have to be," Barnett said.
Merchandise continues to sell off the shelves.
"One of the most popular products? The love shirt. Barnett hopes it challenges people to rethink what it really means to love your neighbor."
"We all go shopping. We'll go shopping in the mall, and we'll just pick out some clothes because we need some clothes,” Barnett said.
Yet here, buying a coffee mug, a hat, or a shirt carries a bigger meaning.
"Not to buy more stuff, but to buy stuff differently. I want to be that answer for people. I want clothe your neighbor to be that answer for people." Barnett said.
Barnett runs the non-profit solely off of donations.
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