This story was first broadcast on LX.com
Fashion has always been Jovana Mullins’ personal passion. But when designers start volunteering their weekends as fashion mentors with an art therapy program at Center for All Abilities in 2017, he did not know that his life would change drastically.
At that time, Mullins had worked for many different luxury brands for eleven years as a print and embroidery designer. But she’s looking for new opportunities that will combine her passion for fashion with her passion for volunteering. That’s when she first started working with a New York City non-profit organization that aims to empower children and young people with autism to recognize their creative potential and thrive.
“After volunteering with CAA and seeing the extraordinary artistic talent this group has, a light bulb exploded … what if I used their artwork for prints on dresses, scarves, etc,” she said. “The art they create is much more meaningful and imaginative than anything I have ever created for the brands I work for. I knew there needed to be a brand that celebrated this talent, provided a platform for expression, and connected consumers to the creativity and talent possessed by consumers. persons with disabilities. “
Mullins soon left his full-time position in the fashion industry to build his own line of clothing BELIEVE, (Consciousness, Love, Inclusion, Voice, Individuality and Acceptance.) Fashion brands hire designers with autism and turn their artwork into vivid prints. Each of Alivia’s work begins with a work of art created by an individual with a developmental disability while participating in art therapy. The goal is to create a collection of prints that reflect the artist’s artistic vision, personality and point of view. The company was launched in April 2020.
Unfortunately, as the couple prepared to launch their first collection, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They had to immediately rethink the nature of the brand as consumers suddenly swapped their designer dresses and high heels for comfortable sweatpants and hoodies.
Instead of delaying the brand release, the designer is using scraps of cloth bags to make a COVID mask as part of his new line. Mullins immediately began production and sewing, stich-by-stich, more than a hundred masks by hand. With every item sold, Mullins donated PPE masks to front-line staff at YAI, an organization that provides housing and support for individuals with developmental disabilities.
“Launching at the start of a global pandemic was never the plan, but I’m very proud we turned lemons into lemonade,” said Mullins. Instead of focusing on sales, the designer focused on creating community through the weekly ‘Saturday Smiles’ … a curation of positive news that celebrates inclusion and people of all abilities.
As for which print made him smile the brightest? Mullins pointed to the message “Happy Strokes Pink!” This is a design of the upbeat personality of the eighteen year old Alan Li, whom he describes as a passionate and playful figure.
But he is a huge fan of all three of his brands’ creators and continues to be impressed by their style and colorful imagination. Along with Allen Li, William Choi and Yu Chen are two other artists whose prints are on display in the current collection. Mullins hopes his brand will in turn encourage more inclusion in the fashion industry.
“Its mission is to provide specialized education for neurodiverse individuals, teaching valuable skills that will prepare them for employment in the fashion and retail industry,” he said. “From garment sewing and construction to sales and customer service, we plan to develop distinct lines that will generate meaningful work across Alivia and other brands in the future.”
A new collection will be released in October which will feature two original artists. Ten percent of every purchase is donated directly to a local nonprofit maker and every garment purchased includes a scanable tag that allows consumers to experience the personal story behind the garment.