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Paper Clouds Apparel Kickstarts for National Outreach

Published: Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Updated: Friday, July 20, 2012 14:07

Paper Clouds Apparel

Tiera Allen • College Times

It all started with a drawing stuck on a fridge.

“I was looking for something to do with my life, and I wanted to do something that would make a positive impact on this world,” said Robert Thornton, the founder of Paper Clouds Apparel.

A few years ago Thornton was visiting his mom who was a bus driver for students with special needs. Each day one of her students would draw on the bus ride to and from school, and at the end of the route the student shared her daily masterpieces with Thornton’s mom. They would eventually end up on her fridge.

“I put two and two together and decided I wanted to take artwork created by special needs individuals and put them on t-shirts to raise money for the schools and organizations those children attend,” Thornton said. “I feel like my purpose is helping special needs individuals and that is what I’m committed to doing.”

Today, Paper Clouds Apparel sells bamboo t-shirts adorned with drawings of cows, elephants or unicorns and donates 50 percent of the proceeds to fund programs like ValleyLife, an organization that helps the mentally and developmentally disabled through a variety of programs and courses.

With cuts in government spending and the rise of some conditions like autism, Thornton believes his organization’s role is more important now than ever before.

Paper Clouds Apparel has positively affected the disabled community in Arizona since its inception in 2009, but Thornton is ready to kick it up a notch and expand his outreach on a national level.

“I’ve always wanted to raise money for individuals with special needs in all 50 states,” he said.

He said he plans to eventually dedicate a week to a featured school or organization and for seven days sell limited edition shirts to fund that week’s organizations.  

To reach this next level Thornton is working on garnering funding and support.

Monday marks the launch of Paper Clouds Apparel’s Kickstarter project, an online fundraising platform for creative projects. For 33 days donors can pitch in anywhere from $5 to $2,000 and will receive rewards like Paper Clouds Apparel t-shirts or personalized thank you letters from individuals with special needs.

In addition to raising money, Thornton is working to develop partnerships with at least 52 schools and organizations that will receive the funds he raises – a task that has proved frustrating. Gearing up for his organization’s expansion, he’s sent out 12,000 emails to schools and organizations and has received less than 50 replies.

But with his end goal always in mind, these setbacks don’t slow him down.

 “If I can make life better for one special needs individual then every sacrifice and everything I’ve had to do will be completely worth it,” Thornton said.

He believes this is a cause that everyone can get behind. The bamboo t-shirts are environmentally friendly, visually appealing and support a cause worth fighting for.

“Everybody needs t-shirts to wear so why not do something positive with your purchase, knowing that the money is going to help some amazing people that desperately need our help,” Thornton said.


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