Former ASU student Robert Thornton’s business is all about helping the little guys, rather than trying to make money.
“We are just trying to bring hope to individuals that have been treated like second-hand citizens,” Thornton said.
Thornton owns Paper Clouds Apparel, a charity company devoted to helping those with special needs by designing shirts, bags and hats.
“I know that we are changing lives,” he said. “We get emails from parents saying this program has changed their home life where their child that has autism would come home and was maybe angry. “
Paper Clouds Apparel has special needs individuals draw designs for them. Thornton and his colleagues then narrow down the best designs for shirts, he said.
“Now they have their artwork on a Paper Cloud Apparel shirt and saw that their art was appreciated,” he said. “Now, instead of being disruptive, they will just want to sit down and draw more.”
Paper Clouds Apparel takes 50 percent of the profits and donates it to the organizations with which it has teamed up.
Every two weeks, the company teams up with a different organization for a specific cause and helps that foundation raise money.
This year alone, they have raised around $11,400, according to the company’s website.
A special-needs individual packages every shirt the company sells, Thornton said.
“Your money is going to help people,” he said. “Your creating work for somebody who has a really hard time finding (jobs) in the real world.”
Joe Armstrong, Paper Clouds Apparel’s vice president, said creating jobs for special-needs individuals is his favorite part of the company.
“We didn’t really anticipate … the jobs created,” he said. “That wasn’t really in the blue prints in the beginning. It’s really a win-win across the board.”
Thornton works as a bartender at Potino and Armstrong works at ZTejas, aside from their jobs at Paper Clouds Apparel. Thornton said he has to work 80 to 90 hours a week to keep the business going.
“I believe in what I am doing so strongly,” he said. “If this is what I have to do, then this is what I have to do.”
Despite past difficult experiences in the business world, Thornton was able to get help from Seed Spot in order to develop Paper Clouds Apparel.
“Seed Spot is a nonprofit, business incubator,” he said. “They basically nurture (your business) through everything.”
He said he is looking forward to new changes to Paper Clouds Apparel.
Thornton said the company is working on building a new website where people can choose the style of shirt where they want the drawings to appear.
Armstrong and Thornton said they are looking forward to their near future collaboration with Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
“Its out first campaign we’re doing branching outside special needs,” Armstrong said. “It’s really exciting.”
Thornton said Armstrong was the one who created the name for Paper Clouds Apparel.
“I was thinking about when you are a kid looking up the clouds,” Armstrong said. “The art is abstract and different.”
Much like when people try to find shapes in clouds, when customers see the drawings on the T-shirts, it’s up to them to figure out what they are seeing.
Paper Clouds Apparel is now working on raising money with another organization, Putting Downs First, for Down syndrome, Thornton said.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jamiemhobbs