Fif Ghobadian (right) and Alice Cahan, the co-founders of Road 22
The t-shirt is not only one of the simplest and coolest items in one’s wardrobe, women’s and men’s alike, it’s also one of the most powerful – a black canvas for style statement, art or social comment. Both concepts are at the core of Road Twenty-Two, the socially conscious premium t-shirts brand launched in the autumn of last year, which promises to stay style-driven, as well as style-conscious, a union not many brands with similar missions succeed to achieve. Road 22 breaks through employment road blocks for women who were formerly incarcerated, homeless or suffering from substance abuse by hiring them and giving them a chance to succeed at life.
At Road 22, made in the U.S. with natural fabrics, they believe that what you do matters and what you wear matters. And what they do does make a difference, and by wearing their clothes you show not only that you are embracing an assured style, but that style comes from substance. It is an honour to introduce you to the two incredible and inspiring women behind the San Francisco-based brand, Fif Ghobadian and Alice Larkin Cahan.
Fif, your family had to flee Iran when you were 15, when the Revolution broke, and relocate to California, where they encountered culture, language and unemployment barriers, which ultimately turned their lives forever. Your personal experience is clearly one of the channeling factors which led to starting Road Twenty-Two and giving women in need a second chance when nobody else would. But why have you chosen fashion, having a different background (in finance), to make a difference?
Fashion is a powerful form of expression. Fashion has become a vehicle for change. It seemed worth a shot to use fashion as a means to bring awareness to the need to give women chance.
A year ago I had about 100 t-shirts in my closet and remained on a quest for the perfect fitting t-shirt. Creating a perfect fitting t-shirt seemed like an opportunity! I’ve since paired down the number of t-shirts in my closet as I continually just reach for my Road 22 shirts! Fortunately, I was introduced to Alice who has a background in fashion as a designer and stylist.
Alice, you studied fashion at F.I.T., New York City, then pursued a career in fashion, including styling private clients in San Francisco. Has your perception towards fashion changed since you co-founded Road Twenty-Two? Does your work feel more rewarding now? Can fashion make the world a better place?
I will always have a love of fashion. Road 22 has given me a forum to combine my sense of aesthetics with my desire to give back. At Road 22 we are striving to make the world a better place by giving opportunities to women who would normally face great barriers to employment. We are making a difference. We have changed the trajectory of a few lives forever. We will continue to change more.
Road Twenty-Two admirably uses fashion to generate jobs and open doors to women and reintegrate them in society. You also manufacture locally, with natural fabrics, in California. I think that’s admirable and I also believe that such strong values set a brand apart and that customers have come to appreciate that and will continue to do even more so in the future. What are the perks and challenges of being a socially conscious brand?
With our mission, we are making a difference. We are changing lives.. We are giving women a deserved chance. We are reducing poverty. Also, in keeping manufacturing local we are helping our local economy.
Our greatest challenge: It requires a lot of patience to mentor, train and retain women who are working for the first time.
How do customers feel about something that has some good attached to it? Are they becoming more socially conscious, too, or do they still respond to product first?
Consumers like the idea of buying a product that does good and is ethically manufactured. That doesn’t necessarily sell a product. The product must still be perfect and meet a market need. We have a high repeat purchase rate (13%) which makes us feel really good about our shirts. The more shirts we sell, the more women we can help.
You are an inspiration for design with a purpose. But who and/or what inspires you? Is there anyone in particular who has influenced your life and work?
Alice: I am inspired by good design and beauty. I like the unique style from the streets of Europe and am influenced by fashion icons from the 70s. Lauren Hutton is my ultimate.
Hugh Jackman in a Road 22 Burke t-shirt
Road 22 is a brand with a mission, but what I also like is that it’s style-driven as well, and you want your t-shirts to stand alone as wardrobe staples. A symbol of timeless, effortless American style and California cool, is the t-shirt one of the essential pieces every woman should own, and why?
Fif: The t-shirt is essential. It is the foundation of a wardrobe.
Alice: Road Twenty-Two shirts have the right amount of edge, yet are classic enough to stand the test of time! By focusing on the basics, I’m able to express my own personal style.
Describe the Road 22 aesthetic.
The Road 22 aesthetic is classically chic with a downtown cool edge. It’s effortless style.
What makes a perfect t-shirt? Why is it so hard to find a perfect-fitting basic item such as a tee? How are you addressing this at Road Twenty-Two?
There is a constant quest for the perfect t-shirt. It takes a lot of reworking which costs money to make the perfect fitting t-shirt. We focus on fit. Just as one would tailor a jacket, we are tailoring a t-shirt. We make sure our shirts work well on our team members of various shapes and sizes. Also, the draping of fabric is important. It has to feel good. We wash our fabrics several times before sewing to make sure it doesn’t change when you take it home.
What is next for Road 22?
We are currently working on sweatshirts, more t-shirt styles for summer, and a number of limited addition graphics. We are also collaborating with other women-run brands who share a similar aesthetic to enhance our product offering. We are about to launch a line of jewelry. Further down the road we will do cashmeres and button down shirts.
What does style mean to you? Describe your own personal style.
Fif: I like the crafty messy casual look. It looks like you just threw it together and it’s relaxed and edgy, but it took time to put it together.
Alice: Style is an expression of one’s personality. My style is classic. Polished but undone. I grew up in London and that comes through in my style.
What is your favourite thing to do in San Francisco and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?
Fif: Running in the trails and walking over all city!
Alice: I would miss the ability of having the beach and the city within walking distance. I would miss the mild weather. I can wear a Road 22 shirt every day!
Favorite thing to do in SF: walk, walk. Drink wine.
You wish people appreciated more:
Fif: Life offers many challenges and rewards. I wish people appreciated the rewards most of us have been given and were content and happy. In interviewing staff members for Road 22, I got a lot of exposures to those in our world who have been offered so little and are content with a little. Yet there are those who have so much and it’s never enough.
Alice: I wish more people appreciated how hard it is for some people to turn their life around. Giving these women a chance and seeing them run with the opportunity has been beyond rewarding.
What makes you happy at the end of the day?
Fif: Relaxing with my family!
Alice: At the end of the day obviously my family makes me most happy. Seeing how transformative employment can be for the women Road 22 helps is extremely gratifying.
photos: courtesy of Road Twenty-Two
Where you can find them: official website and online store Road Twenty-Two / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram