Written by Jovana Mullins
I remember exactly where I was when I first felt a calling in my heart to work with people with disabilities—I was six years old at a Mother's Day luncheon event hosted by Delilah, the radio personality (my mom, sister and I absolutely LOVED her growing up). We were standing in line to go in and I saw another little girl around my age smile and wave at me. I was a very shy child, and as I stood behind my mom and waved back I realized this little girl looked different than me, and had the most joyful smile i'd ever seen. I then noticed other kids staring at her, pointing and laughing. When we sat down at our table I quietly asked my mom why that little girl was so happy and smiling even when the other kids were being mean around her, and my mom explained that this little girl was very special—she had Down syndrome.
I had never heard of or met anyone with Down syndrome and I had a lot of questions. My mom, who used to be a special education teacher, began to explain to me that some children are born with different abilities, some may look different, walk different, sound different...but we are all children of God and are wonderfully made. My heart felt like it had never felt before, it was bursting with love and excitement...God used this beautiful little girl to plant a seed in my heart, and from that day on I knew I wanted to help create a more inclusive world.
Fast forward twenty two years, I was recently married and exhausted from being a designer in the fashion industry for the past ten years. I was sick of the crazy hours, egos, and unrealistic demands—all for what?? I knew I needed a change. While I had always volunteered throughout my career, I wasn't able to devote the time I wanted. I wanted so badly to leave my full time job and do something more with my life. It was at the point where I couldn't take it anymore that I was offered a part-time consulting job out of the blue that paid the same as my full time job but was only 3 days a week—I hadn't even applied for it (God's timing is perfect). I immediately accepted the position and quit my full time job. The same week I started my new position I connected with Hope for New York who introduced me to Phoebe Ho, the founder of the Center for All Abilities. CAA provides creative art therapy, mentorship, and vocational training to youth and young adults with developmental disabilities.
I began volunteering every weekend as a mentor, and coming early to paint and draw with some of the participants. It was there that I saw this incredible creative talent, and the power of art therapy. Many of the participants I was working with have autism and art is a powerful communication tool for them—and the artwork they were creating was unbelievable! In my career as a print and textile designer, I was the one creating artwork and transforming it into prints for garments, but when I saw the artwork that came from this group a light bulb went off — what if we used these artworks and transformed them into prints and embroidery across beautiful silhouettes? After bringing the idea to my husband, we officially began our journey to build Alivia in October 2018.
After two years of research, development, and A LOT of blood, sweat and tears, Alivia launched April 1st, 2020 in honor of Autism Awareness Month.
Alivia makes radiant clothing inspired by the artistic expressions of people with developmental disabilities. Every collection begins by transforming the artwork of creators with disabilities into bold prints and embroidery across elevated silhouettes. Each creator is paid for the use of their artwork, and 10% of every purchase is donated to their nonprofit art therapy program, providing a lasting impact for generations of creators to come. Every garment includes a scannable tag allowing wearers to see, experience and share the human story behind their clothes—and the direct impact they've made. Alivia uses fashion as a platform to connect consumers to the talents of people with disabilities. We want to inspire society to look beyond the disability of a person, and instead see them for their talents and abilities. Just because a person my look a different way, communicate a different way, or act a different way, doesn’t mean they are less. Everyone has a purpose and gifts to share with the world.
Although launching at the start of a global pandemic was challenging, we have been able to focus on our mission and grow further towards our goal of creating fashion's first fully inclusive supply chain. We’ve partnered with CAA to create a fashion-focused vocational training program. Project A’s mission is to provide specialized education and employment opportunities for neuro-diverse individuals, teaching valuable skills that will prepare them to work within the fashion and retail industry. From sewing and garment construction, to sales and customer service, we plan to develop different pathways that will lead to meaningful employment throughout Alivia and other brands in the future. Every Project A product creates meaningful employment for adults with neuro-developmental disorders and challenges. Each employee is paid at least minimum wage, and enjoy a safe and inclusive work environment where they are supported and encouraged by our instructors, therapists, and volunteers. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (also National Down Syndrome Awareness Month!) and we're launching some exciting new accessories made by our Project A team!