Clothing Designers with MD: Striving for Sartorial Excellence

Three up-and-coming clothing companies — created  by four young men with neuromuscular diseases — are offering unique designs

Article Highlights:
  • Madhouse Tees, Sofa and Joseph Ryan Clothing are the brainchildren of four young men with neuromuscular diseases and entrepreneurial spirits.
  • Products range from T-shirts to knit beanie caps.
  • Their three companies, in different cities, are serving customers worldwide.
by Bill Norman on June 24, 2010 - 5:15pm

Four young men with powerful entrepreneurial spirits and a flair for design are making inroads in the country’s custom clothing industry. Although each of the three companies offers its own distinctive designs, the owner/operators have a lot in common.

Madhouse Tees was created by Jared Aronson, Gilford, N.H.; Sofa is the brainchild of Adam Soto (alias Sofa), of Aurora, Ill.; and Joseph Ryan Clothing is owned by brothers Nick and Chris Fare, Milwaukee. Soto, 21, and the Fare brothers, 31 and 28 respectively, have limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. Aronson, 26, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

This quartet is bursting with creative energy and the desire to make a positive difference through the goods they offer for sale through their websites.

Madhouse Tees

Aronson got into the custom T-shirt business in 2004. The Madhouse name, he says, comes from the fact he grew up in a family with six siblings and up to eight dogs at any one time —  never a dull moment.

Jared Aronson

His original T-shirt designs feature offbeat humorous drawings and messages, such as one mosquito saying to another, “You suck.” Each design can take him 20 hours or more to create using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, using only his thumbs to control a computer trackball. Cold thumbs don’t work well, so he often rests them on an electric heating pad on a pillow in his lap as he sits at the keyboard.

Aronson said he loves to see people’s reactions when they encounter his designs. “I get a good feeling when people laugh at my work,” he said. He also said he has learned a great deal about the world of business and met some great people he’d not otherwise have encountered.

Sofa

Sofa, says Soto, became a “full-blown brand” in 2008 after its initial launch two years earlier. The company now makes T-shirts, hoodies and knit beanies, with baseball caps and jackets and belts on the near horizon.

Adam Soto

Soto’s first entry into the clothing marketing actually was driven by his fascination with sneakers (his personal collection now numbers more than 100 pairs), and he got a great introduction to the clothing market when Nike, the sports attire giant, commissioned him to make three versions of its Air Force 1 model. Nice Kicks online magazine give his first creation a glowing review.

Freshness magazine had more good words for Soto’s second Nike Air Force 1 design. “For this one, I was inspired by my disability and my scooters. I own two and I wanted to tie them to a shoe. Other people rely on shoes. My scooters are like my shoes; I need them 24/7 to get around,” he says.

Soto also accepts quantity production orders from other clothing line companies. When he’s in charge of design, he says, “I’ll usually think of something and run it by the guys and see what they like and dislike, and then it goes from there.”

Joseph Ryan Clothing

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Chris and Nick Fare were looking for a way to operate their own business and also help people with disabilities. They realized they could do both by creating a new line of luxury knit shirts for men and women, and donating 20 percent of their sales to MDA.

Chris and Nick Fare

Joseph Ryan Clothing products are all manufactured from Peruvian Pima cotton. Shirt styles for both sexes include V-necks, scoop necks, polos and crews in a wide variety of colors. The company’s distinctive JR logo appears on the chest and sleeve.

“We feel we’re offering a superior product, and we’ll use the feedback we get to move in directions people have interest in,” the brothers wrote in an e-mail. “Our goal is to become a full apparel company for both men and women. We hope to offer long sleeves and sweaters this fall.”

As with Sofa and Madhouse Tees, the Fares conduct most of their business from home, although they necessarily interact with a variety of production entities like photographers and models. Nick uses a scooter fulltime for mobility, while Chris is still “hoofing” it. They recently acquired pacemakers and defibrillators.

“We definitely understand the needs of people with disabilities, which makes what we’re doing so much more special and meaningful,” they say.

Products from all three companies can be purchased directly from their websites.

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