Inspiyr spoke with Alexander Aquino, CEO and Founder of Barnabas Clothing, a socially-good retail company that donates 10% of it’s proceeds to help people in Western Kenya affected by life-threatening illness. The message behind Barnabas inspires people to “live a life worth imitating”. We spoke with Alexander about what that message means, why he started Barnabas Clothing, and his advice on what men can do to reach their dreams.
You’ve got an interesting background. You’ve done modeling, acting and photography. Now you’re the CEO and founder of a socially-good retail company. How did you get here?
I grew up in southern California, and with Hollywood in your backyard there’s this whole influence of having to look good and maintain an image, so I had the fashion influence from a young age. Plus, I always wanted to start a business. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and I wanted to create something that I was passionate about; I’m passionate about giving back.
In volunteering with youth programs throughout my life I learned that if a marketing program had a message, then kids usually understood what that message was. I decided that if I was going to have a brand of my own that I would incorporate giving back as part of that brand.
Barnabas Clothing was inspired by that whole idea and about three years ago I did market research and found that while there were clothing companies that donated a percentage of their profits to charity, there was nothing on the market that connected the dots between a clothing line and the “giving back”, so I launched Barnabas Clothing to solve that. Once I got it off the ground it was really well received.
Tell us about Barnabas. What’s the mission?
Well “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement” and the tagline of Barnabas Clothing is “live a life that’s worth imitating”. When you have a life that’s worth imitating it creates ripple effects. The idea is that if you inspire one person then there are many around that person who get inspired as well.
So if we can send a message that encourages people to live a life that includes making solid choices and positive role modeling then people will want to emulate that. We want to encourage people to have the confidence, boldness and courage to go against what society says is normal and instead of just doing everything that society says is “ok”, to have a life that is worth imitating.
On the back of that is our give-back component. When you purchase Barnabas Clothing you’ll see how a portion of your purchase will support a specific project for our partner organization Living Room International, which helps people who have been impacted by HIV/AIDS in Western Kenya. We connect the dots by really equating what that percentage is on each purchase, and explaining how that money can help, whether it’s nourishment for a child, or a new pair of shoes, or a day’s worth of HIV/AIDS treatment over there in Africa. It shows what your impact is
Connecting that dot with consumers is what I believe is huge. It’s important because a lot of companies say that they are donating to certain charities but you don’t really know where your dollar is going or how far it is going. So when I started Barnabas I wanted to change that.
Who is the target demographic for the product?
The demographic is pretty broad right now; it really runs from the 13 year old up to the 35 year old. I would say the majority of our market runs from 13-25 but parents buy the gear as well. We don’t focus on specific demographics when we design the line. I think my focus, my passion, is on the men’s wear because that’s what I wear (laughs). Its just easier for me because women’s wear is a whole other beast of an industry. There are elements of the line that really trickle into the women’s and kids wear so those will be the secondary products. We’ve started with graphic t-shirts and we’re going to move into other products like blazers, jeans and shoes.
Can you define what “live a life worth imitating” means?
It means living a life in which you’re not compromising your morals or ethics just to appease someone, or society. It means standing up for what’s right. Living this kind of a life requires fullness, it requires courage.
We like to highlight individuals who exemplify this type of lifestyle, so every month by do interviews with people who exemplify the Barnabas brand. I think those hit a nerve with people and causes them to rise to the occasion and be a better person.
What advice can you share with men who want to live their best life and go after their dreams?
You need to listen to the passion in your heart. You need to know what gets you fired up about life. After you build a dream around that, you need to go for it.
Second, surround yourself with other men or mentors who have experience in those areas so you can help get a strategy together.
I think overall I would encourage you to not let your dream be just a dream, instead, go after it, and to not be afraid of that.
There’s a group of guys before Barnabas was started where we used to talk about the passions in our life. One guy wanted to be a vocalist, another wanted to be a guitarist. We discussed what was holding us back, and it really came down to complacency, or laziness, or the fact that we have this whole fear of failure. We all just thought, what would happen if we just tried? Since then, Barnabas was born, and another guy is a vocalist, launching his studio album in a month or two. It’s just taking that step out of our comfort zone and trying it. There’s a reason why that thing has been in your heart and on your mind, and you need to go after it.