T-shirt-making NMSU alumni roll up their sleeves to fight hunger

October 11, 2010 by Justin Bannister, NMSU News Center

Aron Jones, left, and Jose Rodriguez, right, are the founders of ROJO Apparel, a charitable clothing company that helps people living in extreme poverty around the world. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Lots of people are concerned about world hunger. Not everyone makes it his or her career to tackle the problem. But that’s exactly what recent NMSU graduates Jose Rodriguez and Aron Jones are doing with their company, ROJO Apparel.

ROJO, based out of Las Cruces, started a little more than a year ago. Their mission is to help those facing extreme poverty while creating awareness about poverty issues. With every shirt sold, ROJO sends 50 meals to people living in extreme hunger.

“To date, we’ve sent more than 176,000 meals to people living in poverty,” Rodriguez said. “I say we, but it’s really our customers who made it possible for us. We tell them they aren’t just buying a shirt, they are buying into a movement.”

Rodriguez graduated from NMSU in 2008 with degrees in economics and finance and went to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory. After seven months, he called and pitched the idea of a charitable clothing company to his friend Jones, who had just graduated from NMSU with degrees in management and marketing. From there, the idea took off.

“We’ve multiplied our initial investment several times. I’ve been really excited to see what we’ve been able to do over the last year,” Rodriguez said, crediting what he learned in the College of Business in helping with their success. “More than anything we just like being able to think creatively, and play by our own rules.”

Part of playing by their own rules was not prescribing to the business idea that all startups must secure capital and loans.

“I think it takes away from the autonomy of a business when you have to answer to banks and investors,” Rodriguez said. “Our primary obligation is to people in extreme poverty. We don’t want to ever have to answer to other people or compromise our primary [responsibility] to the poor.”

In addition to meal donations generated by shirt sales, ROJO donates 10 percent of what they make doing screen-printing and embroidery to charity, something that started just with local customers, but has since expanded across the nation. Rodriguez said social media has been a valuable tool in helping organize and inform their customers.

“It’s a lot of word of mouth. Having just started up, traditional advertising would not be effective for what we are trying to accomplish,” he said. “Our advertising takes the form of providing a great product with a story behind it. We give people something they are excited to tell others about.”

Rodriguez said NMSU students and others from around the U.S. also have helped by buying shirts, volunteering at events, modeling, and by working in their intern program.

To learn more about ROJO Apparel, visit their website at http://www.rojoapparel.com. They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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