After touring a California shelter for homeless LGBT youth when he was 14, Dillon Eisman learned that their greatest need was clothing for job interviews and school. He noticed most of the donated clothes were out of style and in poor condition. As a teenager himself, he knew how clothes helped one’s self-confidence and wanted to do something about it.
He decided he would teach himself how to sew. Using a bag of clothes his Mom was donating, her sewing machine and online tutorial videos on the internet, he began to turn the old worn out clothes into stylish garments. He started delivering his new designs to the shelter and instantly saw how it uplifted the teen’s self-esteem and spirits.
Dillon’s idea has grown, and he now operates Sew Swag, Inc., his nonprofit that turns donated clothes into fashionable outfits for Los Angeles’ homeless. His one man operation collaborates with other nonprofits, churches and homeless organizations to distribute his upcycled clothes to those in need.
Dillon will often partner with another nonprofit, Project Ropa, and follow the Lava Mae mobile shower truck schedule to set up a rack of re-designed clothes next to the truck. After the homeless have had a chance to shower, they can pick a new outfit off Dillon’s rack. Dillon also brings his rack of newly embellished donated clothes to other homeless shelters, where he has developed special relationships and even created customized pieces for them.
Through Sew Swag Inc., Dillon hopes to bring attention to the growing population of homeless youth and help people transition off the streets by building confidence through fashion.
What inspired you to volunteer?
While I was touring a LGBT youth homeless center, I noticed the lack of quality clothing necessary for job interviews and school. I was inspired to take the problem and transform it into a solution. I wanted to take the old donated clothes and upcycle them into trendy outfits that would build their self-confidence for work opportunities and school to help transition them off the streets.
Describe your volunteer role with Sew Swag Inc.
I am the chief executive officer of Sew Swag Inc. I pre-design and sew all the clothes. I also physically distribute the clothes to the homeless on a weekly basis. I often partner with shelters, nonprofits, churches and retail companies as well.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
I think it is important for others to give back because it encourages you to pursue new avenues and experiences. Volunteering helps to broaden your viewpoint on other issues facing our society. I think people can find something they are passionate about and use it to help others.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part has been seeing firsthand the impact my work has had on people. I have helped certain individuals for a couple of years and watched them successfully come off the street into houses and have jobs. Being able to be a part of that journey has been rewarding. Knowing that they have regained some confidence because of some of the clothes I have made is gratifying. I am proud to have been part of their successful journey.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I have learned that the stereotypes of homeless are untrue. Even when I first started volunteering, I had an image in my mind of homeless people that they lacked work ethic or were mentally ill, etc. However, what I have found is many want to work and want to be in school, but they have come under unfortunate circumstances. It reminded me not to judge a book by its cover. At our core, we are all humans trying to make the most out of life.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
We have recently partnered with Abercrombie and Fitch. They give me store credit every quarter to spend at their outlet location in Ontario Mills, thereby providing Sew Swag, Inc. with new merchandise for donating. Having the support of such a large company is very exciting and demonstrates commitment to both sustainability and corporate social responsibility
I will be attending college at Washington University in St. Louis in the fall, where I plan on bringing Sew Swag, Inc. with me to campus and the communities in Missouri. I plan on minoring in Business of Social Impact, which will allow me to continue my exploration in social entrepreneurship.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I want young people to go out and use their passion to contribute to the community.
Want to make a difference in your community like Dillon? Visit All For Good for local volunteer opportunities.
Post written by Karen Cohen.