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Meet Caitlin Adler of Project Ropa in West LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Caitlin Adler.

Caitlin, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
In my past life, having received a degree from The Culinary Institute of America, I worked as a pastry cook for the Four Seasons. But after working in the food industry for over a decade and eventually owning my own bakery, I decided to step away from the kitchen.

Six years ago, I moved to Los Angeles and rather than cook in the kitchen, I decided to start designing them. I quickly realized, however, that restaurant design just wasn’t what I was passionate about. I wanted my life to have a great purpose. I’ve always had a heart for the homeless, but I didn’t really know how I could make an impact.

So, while in transition between jobs, I started volunteering at Chrysalis. Chrysalis is a local charity that helps individuals transition out of homelessness through resume building, job interview skills and job placement. I helped sort their clothing donations and quickly discovered that they had a surplus of items and yet also had a shortage of particular items.

After talking to other local charities, I discovered that they too also had similar issues – this became the problem that Project Ropa was created to solve. Clean clothes and access to personal hygiene products significantly impact a person’s economic well-being, physical health and emotional resilience.

Without these basic necessities, it is virtually impossible for someone to get off the street and get a job. In 2015, I started Project Ropa by redistributing unwanted donations from local charities with the goal of using the remaining clothes to one day stock a mobile pop-up shop for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles.

Since then, we have taken the concept to the streets and now work in partnership with Lava Mae, a mobile shower organization, to help restore dignity, rekindle optimism by providing clean clothes, shoes and hygiene products to people experiencing homelessness. We are currently providing service to four locations in the greater Los Angeles area – Venice, St. Francis Center, Pathways Shelter and City Hall in Downtown LA.

In addition to providing for the needs of the homeless directly, we also redistribute clothing to other charities in need. We provide job interview outfits to Homeless Health Care Los Angeles and Safe Place for Youth, prom dresses and suits to A Place Called Home, everyday clothing to Lava Mae and The Refresh Spot in Skid Row, and damaged/dated clothing to Sew Swag in order to be upcycled.

To date, Project Ropa has directly provided clothing to 1,500 homeless individuals, prom outfits to more than 100 teenagers and job interview outfits to over 800 people transitioning out of homelessness.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As both a start-up and a non-profit, our primary challenge is securing financing from individuals, private companies, and foundations.

In the recent creation of our social impact fashion brand, we’re excited about the potential this innovative business model brings – hiring the homeless to help the homeless. We feel that establishing a sustainable business model is the only way to effectively scale out and grow, and the initial reaction to the brand has been nothing but positive.

We’ll continue to build out this aspect of the business such that we can minimize the financial ask to individuals and organizations. But until that time, our greatest challenge is locating funds to continue the financing of the day to day homeless interactions.

Project Ropa – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Our goal is to create a lasting impact on the fight against homelessness. In pursuit of that effort, this spring we launched a social-impact fashion brand that employs individuals transitioning out of homelessness.

Currently, all the proceeds from that endeavor go directly back into the operating homelessness support operations. We are changing lives by providing a living wage and life opportunities to those who face incredible hurdles attempting to re-enter the job market and society after falling on harder times.

Our initial fashion collection included hand-painted designs on a mix of vintage and designer women’s jeans and jackets – bringing new life to garments previously donated and unwanted. Our passion is to make clothing that is sustainable, eco-conscious and one-of-a-kind. We intend to expand our collections to include upcycled and repurposed men’s and women’s jackets, shirts and jeans.

What truly sets us apart from the other social enterprises in the fashion space is monumental.

1. We are a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization and all proceeds go to directly fund the charity’s operations.
2. We employ individuals transitioning out of homelessness, providing a living wage and much needed occupational experience.
3. All of the clothing is previously donated – no new clothing is ever manufactured
4. All of the work is done locally in Los Angeles.

We are helping end the cycle of poverty and homelessness by providing living wage jobs to people transitioning out of homelessness, including ex-offenders. We provide opportunities to advance their careers and start a new chapter in their lives. We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to survive and thrive.

Pricing:

  • Shorts starting at $50
  • Jeans starting at $95
  • Jackets starting at $125
  • Skirts starting at $95

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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