“Art education is not about learning to draw — it’s about learning to see.”
For Jonathan and Alex Torrey, co-founders of Umano clothing, “doing well and doing good” are synonymous.
In an interview with A Plus, Alex says he and his brother always knew they wanted to start a passion project with a social purpose. So, inspired by their parents, who are teachers, Jonathan and Alex launched Umano, a fashion brand that empowers youth and promotes art education by featuring tees and tanks with kids’ drawing printed right on them.
Umano considers “a kid’s drawing a work of art,” and showcases a child’s “raw confidence” while “[empowering] kids to unleash their creativity.” Kids “can draw a giant mess, a big scribble, but they’ll hold it up with tremendous pride,” Alex says.
For every shirt sold, the brand donates a backpack filled with art supplies to a child in need, furthering art education around the world.
When asked why such education is so important to Umano’s mission, Alex says that while traditional studies are important, art teaches fundamental skills that are “critical to being well-rounded.” This includes creativity and confidence, self-esteem, self-expression, problem-solving, and more.
“Art education is not about learning to draw — it’s about learning to see,” Alex says.
To find the designs for the shirts, they visit “Giving Partners” — select schools, after-school camps, children’s hospitals, and refugee youth organizations throughout the world. Umano collects as many as 500 drawings from these partners, but choose just a handful to actually print onto shirts. These designs are sent back to those organizations so kids can see their work come to life. Of course, backpacks are donated to each of these partners as well.
For this year’s new fall collection, Umano chose a theme of “togetherness,” to help inspire the kids’ freestyle creations.
“One of the real influences [for togetherness] is what’s happening in the world,” Alex says. Considering all the divisiveness we experience today, the brand wanted to inspire the “powerful side of togetherness” that unites people and creates change.
Reflecting on a recent Giving Trip with World Relief, Alex remembers welcoming the refugee children and their families as they arrived at the airport in the United States.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to go on almost every single giving trip … but lately getting to work with the refugee youth has been — not exaggerating — life-changing,” Alex says. “There’s this insanely, pure gratitude [in them]. Their stories are things that we can’t imagine. What they’ve been through, what their families have been through.”
With that, Alex and the team hand the children their new backpacks and sit with them, unpacking crayons, paper, and creativity.