Ryky Tran settled into his driver’s seat, preparing to sleep in his ’99 blue Honda Civic for the third week in a row. His stomach grumbled; he hadn’t eaten a meal in two days.
The UCLA fourth-year anthropology major moved from Boston to Los Angeles in 2000 after dropping out of high school. Shortly after, he lost his job and had nothing but his car to live in for three months. It was then, at age 19, that he experienced real hunger for the first time. This experience led to the creation of his company Loyal Mission, a denim company dedicated to helping feed starving children.
“When I created a business, I wanted to create something really high-quality that is made in the U.S.A. I could have done T-shirts just like everybody else; I could have done jackets, shoes. I wanted something really unique to my life and what is really high-quality,” Tran said. “Whether it’s T-shirts or bags or shoes or jeans, the end goal will be the same thing; it will still be to create a product that people will like and purchase that will go towards something much larger than simply adding money to a bank.”
Loyal Mission donates its profits to the Children’s Hunger Fund (CHF), an organization dedicated to feeding children physically and spiritually, said Janae Beakley, CHF marketing coordinator.
“Their commitment [is] to give back and the fact that they have made that a part of their company model is something that we really respect,” Beakley said.
Tran said that he chose to donate to CHF because he wanted to support an effort to prevent something that he once suffered from and CHF gave the highest percentage of proceeds to their cause.
“If I am going to support a charity, I need to believe in what they are doing. I believe in feeding our neighbors, in feeding the children that don’t have the ability to work,” Tran said.
CHF has various programs to donate to, but Loyal Mission proceeds go toward a program that can feed a child for a day for five cents, translating to about $20 for a year.
“Hunger is something that I related to; I know what it’s like to be hungry,” Tran said. “I feel like being able to support a child and not have that child worry about food for a year is an amazing thing we can do for a child. That will change their life.”
Tran experienced this life-changing event when an acquaintance at the time, Brad Butsch, offered to buy him dinner. Tran said that he wanted to repay him, but Butsch declined, saying instead to feed someone else.
“That stuck with me throughout these years,” Tran said. “I wanted to pay Brad back by feeding somebody else.”
Tran took Brad’s advice literally, using it as inspiration to create Loyal Mission.
“There was no way I would have expected that kind of vision,” Butsch said. “It’s a giant leap.”
After Tran experienced true poverty and hunger, he said he has a different outlook on what is important in life.
“I am not in this for the money. I can make money anywhere,” Tran said. “You won’t see me driving a fancy BMW or Lamborghini. I don’t have that desire. I believe there is a much greater purpose to life than material gifts. At the end of the day, what am I going to be remembered for, the guy who started the fancy clothing company or the one who helped changed the world?”
Business partner Jimmy Mathew said that while he has not personally suffered hunger as Tran has, he sees the importance in supporting social issues through the means of a company, calling it commerce for a cause.
“It is not simply about profit, taking and making, it’s about putting out a good product but at the same time knowing underneath that it’s going toward a good cause,” Mathew said. “I believe there is a role in companies being able to provide or do something good rather than just being about profit. There’s always room to be [about something] bigger than yourself and try to do more than just publishing a product.”
Despite the efforts that Tran is making for those suffering from hunger, he said that it is about being inspiring to others, rather than just helping those in need.
“I want to inspire others to change and to show people that you can actually become someone that can be a catalyst for change,” Tran said. “I know that my brand is not going to change hunger immediately, but if I can inspire other people to create movements, I think that can make a difference. It isn’t about me changing the world, it’s about me inspiring people to see that they can change the world.”
Beakley said that she sees a strong future for Loyal Mission with Tran’s motivation to make change and inspire.
“As they grow, I know their donations will grow,” Beakley said. “We stand behind what he is doing and we are excited to see where this might take off and we are just thankful to be able to be partners with them in this way. We are looking forward to meeting the needs of more and more children through the help of companies like Loyal Mission.”
As Beakley said, Tran said he has big plans to continue to improve his company and expand their merchandise to help feed more and more people worldwide.
“I would like to do a lot more than I [am], but it’s a matter of what we can do at this moment. I have to work with the resources I have,” Tran said. “I am hoping to turn [Loyal Mission] into a multimillion dollar company; we are going to make millions and donate millions.”
Visit loyalmission.com for more information on Loyal Mission or to purchase Loyal Mission merchandise.
DEVON BOHART can be reached at email@example.com.