South Salem High School graduate Kundai Kapurura says last year, between the pandemic, the movement for racial justice and the wildfires, she was overwhelmed with a desire to help. She reached out to fellow student Sophia Cobb after noticing eye-catching Instagram pictures of clothing she’d made. The two soon created Philanthropy Phabrics, a company that sells embellished and customized clothes and donates a portion of the proceeds to rotating charities. They join us to tell us more about their clothing lines and their hopes for the future of their business centered on fashion and philanthropy.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer
Dave Miller: We end today with two South Salem High school graduates. Sofia Cobb and Kundai Kapurura are college sophomores now and they are the co-founders of a company called Philanthropy Phabrics- that’s fabrics with a ph. They take secondhand clothing and customize it and make it new with paint and patches and embroidery. Then they give 10% of their profits to charity. Sofia Cobb and Kundai Kapurura, welcome to Think Out Loud.
Kundai Kapurura: Thank you for having us.
Dave Miller: So Kundai, this all began, as I understand it, when you reached out to Sofia last year. Why did you do that?
Kapurura: Yes. I was in the moment... We were all in the big long quarantine of 2020. This is when everyone started to really tune into what they’re passionate about and I noticed that I was really passionate about creating various kinds of homemade art using household materials such as wire hangers or food condiments or different cut-out pieces that I found around the house. I really developed that and also got into graphic design, which landed me a job in social media and graphic design at a local business.
I reached out to Sofia because I noticed that she was starting to do a lot of clothing and painting and rework of clothing as well. I thought we could come together and we could really make an impact on our community, as we had the pandemic going on; we had the Oregon wildfires and Black Lives Matter and lots of civil unrest.
Miller: Sophia, what was your response?
Sofia Cobb: When Kundai reached out to me, it was really awesome to hear from her that she was finding her own passions throughout the summer. I was really getting into sewing. I had bought a sewing machine and was really tapping into my creative and artistic side. When she reached out to me, I was very eager to see if we could start something, see if we could collaborate on something and that’s kind of how we got started. We met together at a park and talked through our ideas and our visions for what we wanted to see for this clothing line.
At first, we were just thinking of short-term projects. I think over time we really delved into it and it started to become more of a long-term business model.
Miller: Kundai, was there a moment when you realized that this sort of shot in the dark would actually work as a collaboration?
Kapurura: I knew it would work because... It’s kind of cliche, but a lot of people say to not start projects with your best friend. Sophia and I didn’t necessarily hang out, but we were acquaintances in high school. I thought it would be really good because we could be honest with each other as acquaintances and we could really work on this business and grow closer through knowing our brand.
Miller: It’s interesting that you both are talking about business from the beginning and that doesn’t seem like that’s an accident. You both took part in your high school’s DECA competitions. Sophia, can you describe what this organization is?
Cobb: DECA is an organization, kind of like a conference type of thing. It’s also a competition based around business and entrepreneurs. At our high school, at South Salem High School, we had the opportunity to take business classes. South Salem was very well known for DECA because a lot of students from South ended up going to international competitions because of it.
I started doing DECA my junior year. I never took a business class at all in high school [since it] wasn’t really the route that I was wanting to go after I graduated. I started DECA just kind of to do it for fun. I had heard from friends and acquaintances that it was a really fun experience, so I thought why not? I’ll give it a shot. I went into it with an open mind and I did a fashion merchandising promotional plan as my project.
After I did that, I really started realizing that business and entrepreneurship, specifically, is what I wanted to do. DECA is really what helped me make that decision because I realized I was actually pretty good at it. I was pretty good at having that business-centered mindset and having an entrepreneurial mind.
Miller: It’s sort of uncanny that back in your junior year of high school, and you’re a sophomore in college now, it seems like you had a version of what you’re actually doing just as a high school project. Kundai, you made it, if I’m not mistaken, to the international DECA finals twice. What did you learn from taking part in that program?
Kapurura: I think DECA is one of those really well-rounded activities that a lot of students should participate in because it gives you skills and professionalism. It gives you skills in how to present an idea, how to really come up with a business model that you believe in and how to socialize and become a professional in the real world. I think a lot of those skills really translated for me, going from high school, doing it for practice and as a conference and program to real life.
And now with the business that we own... Making it to the finals internationally was a really big deal for me because I’m a first-generation American and a lot of the things that my siblings and I participate in are things very new to my parents.
It’s a prideful moment when you see that you’re flourishing at something so new to you.
Miller: Let’s turn to the business model. Sophia, how would you describe it?
Cobb: When we started it, we were really taking note of each other’s passions and I think we kind of found that confluence of our individual talents and passions and found a really cool way to create one large creative outlet of just our self-expression. What we do is we take clothes that are second-hand or that are thrifted or that people won’t use anymore. We’ve even taken some clothing out of our own closets that we won’t use anymore that would otherwise go to Goodwill. Then we upcycle it, either by painting or resewing or embroidery, or just anything that allows us to use as our self-expression and our creative outlet.
Then afterward, we take 10% of our profits and we donate it to an organization that we feel needs attention right now.
Miller: Kundai, how do you decide which nonprofits to support?
Kapurura: We usually do it based on what’s relevant at the time. So for example, during February, which is Black History month, we chose PDX Black Youth Movement. During March, which was Women’s History month, we chose the Women’s Foundation of Oregon. And during [April], which contains Earth Day, we chose Marion Polk Food Share, which teaches young students how to be sustainable and teaches them how to farm.
Now that we’re moving into Pride month we’re focusing on an organization called SMYRK (Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Resource Center) which supports youth gay rights as well as sexuality. So, I think it’s just choosing, like Sophia said, something relevant and timely.
Miller: Sophia Cobb, to go back to actually finding the clothing... What catches your eye if you’re walking through a vintage clothing store or Goodwill bins?
Cobb: When Kundai and I started our first collection, we went to Goodwill and we walked around. I think the best way to describe how we pick is [to] look around and see which clothing items “called to us.”
Personally, I really enjoy doing very intricate painting designs. For example, I did a dragon painting on a pair of my old jeans. Kundai really loves doing embroidery, she loves doing patchwork, she’s very talented with that as well. So when I was looking through, I really liked getting big jeans or t-shirts that I could paint on and then Kundai would get flannels or things that we could cut up and make into patchwork.
Miller: I imagine that this might sound like the kind of question a DECA judge would ask but Kundai, is this business model scalable or is it bound to be sort of slow and meticulous and about one-offs if you’re going shirt by shirt, the two of you individually.
Kapurura: I think that’s a really good question because everything is one of one and it takes time sometimes to create some of those really unique looks. But at the same time, I think something that we’ve been brainstorming together is possibly creating our own designs on the computer and maybe printing some of our more exclusive or unique designs. I think we could scale it up with screen printing, but I think we really love to stick to those one-of-one unique styles because that’s what’s true to us. In the future, we might consider doing screen printing, though.
Miller: Sophia, just briefly, what advice would you give to young people who want to be entrepreneurs?
Cobb: When I was getting into Philanthropy Fabrics, like I mentioned before, our initial mindset was that this was going to be more of a short-term thing. We didn’t really expect it, at least I didn’t expect it, to turn into a full-fledged business. The biggest advice I would give to someone who wants to be an entrepreneur, who wants to start their businesses... I have heard from a lot of people who want to start a business but don’t know where to start or would love to be an entrepreneur, but just don’t know enough about being an entrepreneur and starting a business and being able to uphold the business. With Kundai and I, we just jumped right into it and we really let our passion out into it as well.
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