Interview with Michael McWilliams of digz apparel

You’ve got lots of options if you want to buy a T-shirt today. So does it matter to you where it comes from? How about if some of the money you paid for it gets used for a good cause? We’re seeing more and more start-up brands giving portions of their sales to charitable ventures, perhaps after Tom’s shoes paved the way. We recently came across another with a similarly big idea in mind. 

digz apparel is working to get off the ground in New York city and around the interwebs with their clothes committed to community. We talked with founder, Michael McWilliams, for more information on the cause he hopes to support with his company, what it’s like to design clothes for men, why he’d run through traffic for a 50-year-old beanie and the good-old karma boomerang. 

It’s no secret that there are tons of clothing brands out there these days. What makes digz different?  

Our cause, for one… It’s where the entire idea for digz began: the desire to do something we love while helping others at the same time. I’m not sure one can exist without the other, frankly. Creating in general is so rewarding, and with that there seems an inherent responsibility and desire to want to give back. The old karma boomerang, I guess.

digz wants to share and tell stories, connect with people, and, at the end of the day, make sure we are making the best possible products for our customers. We realize we are just getting started, but we know there is a need for all that and more right now. 

We love that start-ups are building service into their business plans these days. Talk a bit about the Timbo Fund—what portion of your sales go to the non-profit, and how do you decide where to distribute the money?  

We haven’t chosen an absolute percentage yet– it’s too early for that. We love the “1% for the Planet” movement pioneered by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, and I see us giving more than just 1%. The idea is to do something we love, something that’s important to us and to our communities. Part of that means creating a sustainable basis for the Timbo Fund to continue its giving mission in perpetuity. We started the foundation to help people and families who faced struggles similar to ours. It’s a cause that is just starting to get some more attention, and the more we can contribute, the better. So many TBI sufferers have to learn to walk and talk all over again. Just getting to and from rehab is a big deal, and not all are fortunate enough to have a network of friends and family to lend a hand. 

Three of the four founders of digz are also trustees of the Timbo Fund. So we have a say in how the money is distributed. We’ve traditionally had a two-pronged giving strategy: large grants to advanced rehabilitation organizations that treat patients and their families as they heal from the debilitating effects of TBI; and a small grants program (i.e. < $5,000) called "Timbo at Home," through which the Foundation provides grants to individual patients and families for needs not covered by traditional institutions, insurance companies or health care providers. And while the large grants were a great way to help in big chunks, we've been gradually shifting the lion's share of our grants into the "Timbo at Home" program because the need is so acute and the impact so much greater on the lives of each individual we help.

It’s amazing how many memories a t-shirt can carry. What is your oldest piece of clothing? Tell us about it. 

I have an old Arctic Cat beanie that was my dad’s from the late 60s. It’s a total head turner. I can’t go anywhere without people asking me about it. I’ve managed to hold onto it for a long time, even with friends and family attempting to “borrow” it. It flew off my head once on 8th Avenue. I must have dodged four or five yellow cabs before pouncing on it and nearly causing a pile-up.

What are some characteristics that make a piece of clothing worth holding onto?

I think emotion has a lot to do with it. For me, quality doesn’t always mean it’s never going to break down on you…. Sometimes it’s the way it breaks down that makes it special– like a t-shirt with holes in it, or the way a pair of nylon boardies fade to a new color over time. 

I love what people bring out in clothing. My brother used to buy a five-dollar variety pack of pocket T’s.  He wore them every day, and that’s really all he needed– that’s what made him happy. If I was to draw him from memory, there is no doubt he’d have one of those T’s on. 

What is the most difficult part of designing clothing for men? 

Fit. There are so many shapes out there, and we can’t necessarily please everyone right out of the gate. I’m sure the first line will provide us with plenty of feedback to improve upon, but I’m excited about that.

So, you’ve got a Kickstarter going. What are you hoping to accomplish with the campaign? 

Mainly, we want to hit our goal and raise what we need to produce the line. The truth is, nothing will stop us from seeing this through; there is just too much love around it now. I’ve had so many conversations with people who have felt so inspired by what we are doing that they gave their personal time up just to get involved. Kickstarter’s provided us with an amazing opportunity to build a strong community around digz, and we’re so thankful that people are moved by what we’re doing so early in the life of the brand.

How have you been spreading the word about digz so far? Have there been any unexpected avenues you’ve had to travel down? 

I’ve been doing a lot of outreach to blogs and other brands online but really aim to meet with as many people in person as possible. There is something about sitting down over a coffee or a beer and connecting that you just can’t get over email. With that said, Kickstarter has already proven to be an incredible source for connection. Just the other day, I was chatting with a guy who was stationed in Afganistan, and he was so stoked about everything that he raised his pledge significantly after we talked. 

What does success looklike for you and the digz brand? 

This process has been so exciting because there’s so much room for the brand to evolve. We’re committed to responsibly creating useful, quality products for inspiring customers and helping those affected by traumatic brain injury. If we can continue to evolve while staying close to those values, we’ll be in good shape…

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