Designer for Hire

Spreading the love, one thread at a time

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Fashion brand Fed by Threads is designed to be sustainable and charitable – but also affordable. Barely a year old, it already has plans to manufacture in its native Tucson. We talk to owners Alok Appadurai and Jade Beall. By Gillian Drummond. Cover photo by Jade Beall.


Alok Appadurai and Jade Beall
Photo by Gillian Drummond

It’s karmic cleansing, says Alok Appadurai of the former vault that serves as his retail store. The building he occupies, just around the corner from the alt-retail thoroughfare of Fourth Avenue, was a dry cleaning business in the 1950s. The vault stored minxes and furs.


Photo by Gillian Drummond

Today, and still sporting the original heavy metal door, it’s the home of Fed by Threads, a clothing company selling ultra-planet-friendly blends of hemp, organic cotton and bamboo, with a guarantee that every garment sold provides twelve meals to the hungry. Its yoga-loving owners, Alok and his partner Jade Beall, are vegan. Alok smiles at the irony.

Getting into fashion retail was the last thing on this couple’s minds when they took over the space as a yoga and dance cooperative. But so successful is their brand, launched early last year, that they’re looking at doing some small-batch manufacturing in Tucson within the next three to six months.

Organic “Kimberly” Jumper. Photo courtesy of Fed by Threads

If entrepreneurship is about rule-breaking, then Fed by Threads has the perfect person fronting it. With Alok, it’s all there in the feet. Look down and you’ll see him wearing odd socks – always. “I don’t like the rules that say ‘Don’t wear blah blah.’ I’m like, no, I’m rocking that and I don’t really care what you think.”

It was this attitude that saw him, aged 18, traveling towards the Taj Mahal in India and having what Oprah Winfrey calls “an Aha moment”. Alok was on track to be an investment banker. On this day in India, he was facing backwards in the vehicle, watching the road just traveled disappear in the distance. He imagined he was looking back at his life and asking himself, ‘Are these the people I wanted to spend time with?’

The son of two academics, one a native of India, Alok was brought up surrounded by interesting people, he says. He made a deal with himself to do that in his own life. He chose not to bank but to teach, and to travel the world.


Photo by Gillian Drummond

Soon he was breaking rules again, buying and selling apartments in New York City – an unlikely sideline for a school teacher. What he was really interested in, though, was “entrepreneurship for the good”. After dabbling in leading yoga retreats on the east coast, he found a business partner and began launching a “clean” energy company – one that would convert garbage into electricity, trading in India. They were, he says, on the verge of making it big, when a perfect storm of slumped economy, restrictive federal regulations and tight-fisted banks made sure it never got off the ground. At a personal level, Alok’s mother was dying of breast cancer.

Along came Jade Beall, a dancer, photographer and yoga enthusiast living in Tucson whom Alok noticed on a friend’s Facebook page. A few visits by Alok to Tucson and the two were planning their own yoga and dance studio.


Photo by Gillian Drummond

They set up The Movement Shala, a yoga and dance collective (they lease the space to teachers) and it wasn’t long before they launched a signature T-shirt for the studio. Their idea was to help America’s hungry by donating $2 from every shirt to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization. And although customers applauded their initiative, along with purchases came questions: Where was it made? Was it organic? Was the fabric sustainable?

Alok and Jade decided to try again from scratch, and this time sourced a tailor and supplier that could make the clothes in America, and make them qualify as sustainable. Again, Alok chose the path of most resistance. He wanted to offer a clothing line that was affordable to everyone.

“I’m not gunning for the top 10% of America’s disposable income. That would have been easy,” he says, referring to what he believes is an unjustified hike in margins on many sustainable clothing lines. “Now that I’m in the trade, I can look at so many other companies and I’m like ‘I know what you’re doing now.’

“We’re trying to create a brand where people trust we’re doing the best we can by them, so that the average American can walk in the door and say ‘I an afford something that’s made in America, and I can feed the needy at the same time.’ The point is to hook the average person.”


Photo by Gillian Drummond

Alok may have known nothing about the garment industry, but he did know – through his energy company – about sustainability. He and Jade set out to carry their sustainability philosophy through the materials they use (hemp and organic cotton blends, bamboo and cotton, upcycled denim jeans, material that’s 50% plastic recycled bottles), right through to paper-and-PET hangers and recycled and biodegradable mailing envelopes.

Many companies would have thought that was being virtuous enough. But the real thrust behind Fed by Threads is to feed the hungry – an idea that came to Alok after he received a piece of marketing mail from the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

The contribution to the two food charities isn’t a percentage of proceeds. Every garment, whether it’s a $20 baby onesie or a $90 wrap dress, promises to provide twelve meals. A dollar goes to the Community Food Bank, covering their costs to provide 4 emergency meals, and another dollar goes to Feeding America, covering their costs to provide eight emergency meals.


The door to the store, a former furs vault. Photo by Gillian Drummond

In a marketing spin that’s as clever as it is appealing, Alok and Jade don’t just lay claim to making a cash donation to these two food charities. They turn their donations into meals. They claim that they, or rather their customers, have so far fed almost 42,000 meals to the nation’s 17.9 m food-insecure households.

Alok, who acts as the company’s spokesman, is aware of the limits of his brand and business. He doesn’t expect major shelf space in big-name retailers (why would they when his margins are so comparatively slim, he asks) And he knows that the fact his customers are in benevolent mode when they enter his store works to his advantage and disadvantage. “They walk in having already decided to buy something and hoping to see something for them. The first purchase is a charity purchase.” It’s getting them to keep on spending that’s the challenge.

He adds:  “What sets us apart? I’m not sure it’s my stuff. I can’t say we’ve revolutionized fashion design. Our project is about the people and then from there, listening to the people.” It’s his and Jade’s hope that customers keep coming back because of competitive pricing, and the philanthropy behind the brand.


Photo by Gillian Drummond

He may be being modest about the fashion design, however. This isn’t just a store with T-shirts to make you feel good. Fed by Threads features cleverly simple logos and graphics (many of them developed by local artists and designers), and more than fifty clothing designs.  They use real people – their friends, Alok, their baby Sequioa – as models, with Jade taking the poster and publicity photos. Their best seller is a T-shirt with outlines of six figures – a man and woman, a man and man, and a woman and woman – with the slogan “Legalize love”. They issued a wrap dress, at the behest of one customer. Their strappy, fun jumper (pictured, top) is a big hit. Also on the books are more men’s designs, and possibly jeans.

Manufacturing is currently done in California and North Carolina. Next for Fed by Threads in three to six months is small batch production here in Tucson, through an existing manufacturing plant. If it happens, expect another new slogan: Made in Tucson.

* Visit Fed by Threads on 435 E. 9th Street at 3rd Avenue. Store hours: Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 5pm.

Love the company? Now enter our prize draw!


Photo courtesy of Fed by Threads

Not only did we love writing about Fed by Threads, we fell a lot in love with their clothes. That’s why we’re giving away two of their ‘Legalize Love’ T-shirts, one men’s and one women’s. All you have to do is leave a comment at the bottom of this article. That’s it! And you can comment as many times as you like. On May 20th we’ll draw from the names and announce the winners via email and Facebook.

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  1. Love that t-shirt design!

  2. Yes, I’m trying to stack the odds. Just think how cute me and my honey would look in these. Although given the message of the shirts maybe it should be offered as two shirts either F/F, M/M or boring ol M/F

  3. Wow! A business with conscience & empathy- Congratulations – hope you prosper! love your T-shirt & happy to pay for one. hope they’re for sale as well?

  4. Love those legalize love shirts!!

  5. Kirstin says:

    Such a joy to hear about a local company doing such great things with their profit! I can’t wait to swing over for some new summer clothes. I’ll be bringing friends!

  6. Kirstin says:

    So wonderful to hear about great small business leaders that do great things with their profits! Can’t wait to swing by and pick up some new summer threads and support this local place. I’ll be bringing friends!

  7. Did you say multiple comments were accepted?

  8. Fashion that feeds is an amazing concept! Thanks to Alok and Jade for bringing it to life.

  9. I am super excited to hear about the possibility of manufacturing Fed by Threads clothes here in Tucson! It just keeps getting better.

  10. I would love to bring some Legalize LOVE T shirts across the pond to Europe this summer when I visit my family there…. TO spread the word for Fed By Threads would be a pleasure and an honor. I love Alok and Jade, for who they are and what they do.

  11. Kate Hiller says:

    Great article. Love the idea of this business and will go visit soon.

  12. Desa Rae says:

    Fed by Threads are great for traveling! Light weight and easy to rinse out in the evening – ready to go in the early morning. i have ten pieces so far and look forward to adding more!!

  13. I met Alok and Jade through other avenues….but have been so honored to become a friend as they, their store, Jade’s photography, and their family grew and continues to grow. Fed By Threads is such a shining example of how one can create their own business, jobs, and take their lives in hand in a sustainable, helping others way. Always a pleasure to see them recognized in print. A beautiful family who walks their walk and talks their talk. Continued success.

  14. I just left Fed by Threads having visited for the first time. What a delight. As I left, I thought hmmmm 3 Story should totally cover these guys and I came home to this! Today, I bought a present and admired those fabulous shirts. Alok talked with me and the two kids at length, such a fabulous mission. Such lovely work.

  15. Deena Singer says:

    I’ve had the great pleasure of spending some time chatting with Alok and Jade when I bought some items a gifts. They are amazingly warm and caring people and I love the clothes.

  16. Rachel Smith says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write something on these amazing and beautiful people! They are doing big things and I am so proud that they are in TUCSON! <3 Fed By Threads!

  17. Nice article – all the best always to Alok and Jade and all the best to your publication.

  18. Connie says:

    Applauding your sensibilities, and hope to visit your shop soon…Congratulations!