When we think about apparel brands and companies in general, rarely do we think of teens as being the leaders and drivers of the business. But this is starting to change. Access to information online, sharing of ideas on social media, having family in the fashion industry and a major life challenge resulted in a desire to launch JZips when I was 15 years old. For the past two years, it has made me realize that positive impact in the apparel industry is about problems and solutions — not necessarily age. When we have partners that believe in our vision, even teens can bring about a powerful difference.
For a long as I can remember, personal style and fashion have been an important part of who I am. Like most teens, I have a passion for sneakers and have specific brands that I enjoy wearing. Getting dressed each morning is an opportunity for self-expression and gives me confidence.
This simple act of getting dressed in what I want to wear was a freedom that I took for granted until one day when I was 15 years old and was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer. There is so much that goes through your mind with a serious diagnosis, and it would seem insignificant that what I wore would make much of a difference. But it did — a lot.
During my long hospital stays, I came to appreciate just how important comfort and normalcy can be in a nerve-wracking environment. Wearing a hospital gown was discouraging and uncomfortable. There is no real sizing, and they do not fit well. It made me think that I was wearing a sheet with ties that dozens of other people have worn before. Instead of feeling confident and empowered, the experience was disheartening. The more that I thought about it, the more that I realized that a solution was possible.
According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, there are more than 15,000 children and young adults diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. each year and more than 300,000 globally, with treatments often lasting several years. I knew that if I could find a solution, it would not only make me feel better but thousands of other children across the country and around the world.
Looking online, it seemed that there were a few companies that offered shirts with zippers that would allow easy access to medical ports. These shirts have a few problems, including not being readily-available in kids’ sizes. They lack fun graphics, and they are expensive. Luckily, my grandmother is a talented sewer, and she was able to sew in zippers to shirts that I liked. The experience of receiving treatment not in a hospital gown was, on many levels, emotional. While at the hospital, parents and kids were asking where I got my shirt and where they could get one in their size.
And so, in December 2020, JZips, a 501(c)3 company, was born. Through JZips, we provide altered T-shirts to children and young adults going through active cancer treatments at no cost. Friends and family donate new kids’ T-shirts, and my mother and grandmother sew zippers to make port access easier and more comfortable for kids. The company has expanded through social media and the website where our distribution is done through individual request, hospitals and related organizations.
Now completely in remission at 17 years old, my focus is on being a young entrepreneur and a leader in creating innovative and purpose-driven apparel. Making my way in the industry is not about making money. I want to feel good about the impact JZips has on people’s lives, especially children and young adults. One shirt has the ability to change a patient’s mood and outlook, the experience of parents and the many layers of people who are touching someone’s life who is going though active cancer treatment.
While developing the idea for JZips and altering readily-available T-shirts, we have created a product that meets both the patients’ needs and the functional medical needs. This is just the beginning; there are genuine business challenges. Currently, JZips cannot keep up with the demand. Each T-shirt is hand-sewn, and there are many layers to the process from beginning to end.
The ability to scale is essential to the company’s growth and mission to continue to help others. We have created a board made up of industry leaders with expertise in a range of apparel and fashion categories from manufacturing to marketing, as well as medical expertise. Meetings are taking place with factories that can work with a new company that is still growing. Knowing that kids love licensed characters, we are reaching out to executives who can help. There are challenges from COVID-19 in terms of receiving samples and shipping that we were not anticipating.
The list of challenges to take JZips to the next level can sometimes feel overwhelming, yet so can a shocking diagnosis of brain cancer when you are only 15 years old. What I have learned along the way is that with the right support, a vision for what is possible and the firsthand experience of understanding the real difference something so simple like a T-shirt can make to a child, positive change will happen.
Jordan Harouche is founder and CEO of JZips, a brand of altered functional zipper shirts that allows access to medical ports for children and young adults in active cancer treatment. Kid-friendly designs bring a small sense of fun and normalcy to a stressful situation. JZips, a 501(c)3 company, provides the shirts free of charge through donor support.