When 18-year-old Dillon Eisman took a tour of the Los Angeles LGBT homeless shelter for youth, he was inspired to take action.
“Seeing people who are my age who are not accepted and basically being kicked out of their families because they’re gay was just so heartbreaking,” Eisman tells NBC Out.
Eisman was told that the shelter’s greatest need was for clothing—“because a lot of kids don’t have the proper attire to go out to job interviews”.
The teenager then taught himself to sew using his mother’s sewing machine, tips from the internet and a bag of old clothes.
Now, he runs his own non-profit company—Sew Swag—and spends time “treasure hunting” through second-hand warehouses like Goodwill to collect clothes to upcycle and donate to LGBT+ youth.
“I want to bring a sense of pride, literally, when kids are wearing clothes that make them feel comfortable," he says, adding:
“And especially with LGBT people, that expression is very important in conveying who you are and what you identify as, whether it be if you’re transitioning or if you’re a girl who wants to dress in more masculine clothes or a boy who wants to dress in more feminine clothes, it’s really important that they have that opportunity to express themselves in that way.”
A 2012 study by the Williams Institute found that about 40 per cent of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBT+ and 68 per cent of responders indicated that family rejection was a major factor contributing to LGBT youth homelessness.
“It really just makes me realise how lucky I am to have parents that support me both financially with my non-profit and emotionally with me pursuing my passion and me being LGBT,” says Eisman.
He hopes to one day start his own retail line and provide employment opportunities to LGBT+ youth—but right now is working on creating clothes for Sew Swag.
“It’s something that all underprivileged kids need — new clothes that make them feel good when they put them on,” Eisman says.
“A lot of these people, when they receive second-hand clothing, they tend to feel second-hand and I want to completely avoid that.”