It’s not your typical career change, transitioning from overseas missionary into the thick of the Dallas fashion industry. But Jason Clarke is anything but typical.
Clarke, a 29-year-old Lake Highlands resident, is poised to introduce his first season of clothing under the deClarke insignia this fall. The line of boutique men’s and women’s apparel is the culmination of a long journey, one that took him across four continents where he endured stark realities.
It was just five years ago while Clarke was in Austin working as an actor that he was recruited to model in Europe, a job that took him to exotic hotspots like Barcelona, Madrid, Athens, Milan and Paris. He was enamored by the power of the fashion industry to shape society, and soon found himself working with heavyweights like Diesel and Heineken. Clarke enjoyed the fast pace and the opportunity to travel, but he quickly decided he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life waiting around for the next modeling gig.
“After a while, I realized most of my friends were working job to job, with little thought of the future,” Clarke recalls. “I have always wanted to have my own company, and there I learned that all you have to do is make up your mind to do it."
With this resolution, Clarke returned to the . He began working in Los Angeles for hip retailer Urban Outfitters and learned the ins and outs of the industry, from fabrics and cuts to factories and showrooms. The chance to be creative and original energized him, but he was deflated to find that the fashion industry was no different than any other business — consumed with money and sales.
One night, as Clarke watched one of those ubiquitous late night "feed-the-children" commercials, something clicked. He realized that his ideal of the fashion industry shaping society didn’t have to be an ideal, and that “rather than just tell people what was cool for one season," he could make a difference in the world, Clarke says. He took a two-week trip to and saw firsthand the suffering and poverty there.
"I didn’t have a lot of money at the time, and realized I don’t have to have a lot to help someone with nothing,” Clarke says. “That became my mantra and reshaped the way I thought about business and life."
In April 2005, Clarke put his business aside and moved to to participate in mission work and humanitarian aid. Working with an Australian organization called AusAid, his team helped impoverished people to start small businesses and taught them to grow an economy, while also training them about day-to-day finances. In another project with disabled orphans, the team was able to create a system in which the children received one substantial meal each day, besides the usual beans and rice. Clarke’s team also decided to build a coffee shop, giving the members the opportunity to cultivate relationships with students from a local university. Through this humanitarian work, Clarke realized that pairing business and aid was very feasible, and made it his mission to connect the two.
Returning to the states a year later, Clarke dove into creating his line of apparel, sourcing fabrics in and Lima, . He became intentional about working with factories that paid their employees fair wages and were committed to providing fair working environments. Beyond even that, however, he began pouring his time and energy into his nonprofit deClarke project.
The project, Clarke says, is “the difference in my product and other products." Through it, he will donate 30 percent of all profits from his clothing line to be used directly in mission and humanitarian aid work in Asia, supporting many of the projects that Clarke once supervised.
"It provides a way for the group of people here in who buy my apparel to help people on the other side of the globe who have no access to the sort of luxury we enjoy," he says. "The best thing about what I do is the opportunity to translate a portion of my business’s economy into a better life for people who will never see my clothing."
The pieces in his new line bear the minimalist motif that Clarke came to embrace while in Europe. He found himself inspired by the German architects and Scandinavian furniture makers “who were able to do so much with so little," he says.
As Clarke’s fall line ships this summer, his five-year journey comes to an end, although in many ways, it is only just beginning.
"deClarke represents a simpler way of living, one where we can allow all people to enjoy a certain standard of life,” he says. “When that happens, my dream will be accomplished." —JEFF GIDDENS
WHERE/ deClarke apparel can be found exclusively at LFT in Victory Park. To learn more about Clarke or his clothing line, visit declarke.com or declarkeproject.org.