Former SMC student launches denim company to feed the hungry
It all started in February 2000, when former Santa Monica College student Ryky Tran, hoping to land a big acting gig, moved from Boston to Los Angeles with two suitcases and $300 in his bank account.
By that summer, he could no longer afford to pay his rent. His part-time job at a modeling agency brought in enough money to pay for gas and buy a meal every three to four days, but Tran continued to struggle.
During the end of that time, his friend took him to dinner, which he thought was the best meal of his life. He promised his friend he would return the favor when he could afford it. Without a beat, his friend told Tran that he should instead go feed someone else one day.
This idea remained in the back of his mind and in his heart for a long time, but he did not yet know what it would become.
Tran, now 30, has recently launched Loyal Mission, a premium denim jeans company, to help feed the hungry.
Two weeks ago, the company’s website posted ten different styles of jeans designed by Tran.
Loyal Mission has partnered with Children’s Hungry Fund, and more than half of the proceeds of each pair of jeans, sold between $165 and $195, are donated to the charity.
After spending a year researching local and worldwide associations, looking through books and statistics, talking to employees, and searching on the Internet, Tran felt that CHF was the most efficient non-profit organization, distributing over 99 percent of their donations.
Because Tran had little fashion knowledge, he walked the streets of downtown Los Angeles and knocked on doors of businesses that he thought would be helpful. Most people called him crazy.
After Tran spent months researching fabrics, testing fits, and choosing washes on his own, industry professionals began to see that he was serious.
Slowly but surely, Tran’s team grew to include a dozen people, including designers, web engineers, and social media consultants. Tran said it was difficult for him to delegate work and trust others.
“You have to learn to trust people because you can’t do everything by yourself, as much as you want to,” Tran said. “You’re good at one thing, not everything. There are a lot of people out there that are much better equipped to do other things.”
Two thousand pairs of Loyal Mission’s jeans were produced for distribution three weeks ago.
“We get a lot of feedback on Twitter and Facebook,” Tran said. “People send messages telling me how inspired they are, and how much they love what we do.”
Tran also targets his audience of those still getting to know Loyal Mission.
“Our goal is more than profits,” said Tran. “We do not want to be just a brand. We want to inspire change in people by developing a company that started with just an idea, and one person, and becomes something that creates massive changes around us and around the world.”
Tran said that he knows he is not the answer to world hunger, but he believes in his mission of inspiring others to do even greater things.
“If I can change one person who can change another, we can come together and really make an impact on some big problems,” Tran said.
Soon after Tran first moved to Los Angeles, he began to see acting success, appearing in several movies, television shows and commercials. Tran knew he was fortunate enough to earn a living as an actor, but felt that it was not his passion.
By the end of 2002, Tran started speed skating more often, and trained for the 2006 Olympics in Italy, but a serious car accident forced him to stop abruptly. As he watched his friends earn medals, he took the time to analyze his life, reflecting on what he had been through.
In early 2005, he decided to earn his high school diploma. He then started building his own business in San Francisco, a bike company that built custom racing wheels and bikes for road bikers and triathletes.
In 2008, he moved back to Los Angeles to attend SMC to pursue something different. After changing his major several times, he was accepted to transfer to UCLA as a cultural anthropology major. He is now two quarters away from graduation.
Tran’s true passions are developing businesses and motivating people.
“If you really want to inspire yourself to change, take a trip with a friend or by yourself to a poor nation and see what people live on,” Tran said. “Then you’ll realize you can do a lot.”
Tran wants to take a college tour as a guest speaker to inspire students to help change the world by being part of something, hoping to motivate students who are lost or afraid because they do not know how or where to start.
“Don’t be afraid,” Tran said. “You are going to fail. You are going to meet a lot of challenges. You are going to meet a lot of people telling you you’re crazy and that’s okay. It takes a crazy person to do something great. It is those who risk the most that can make the most change in life.”
Tran wants to keep creating self-sustaining businesses, all working toward a social cause.
“I want to build a billion dollar empire that gives billions of dollars away,” Tran said.
For now, he offers students discounts on his jeans. For more information, he can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.