David Alvarez is not your typical 18-year-old University of Bridgeport business management student. For starters, his young life has been dominated by serious health issues that impacted his mobility.
“Since I was young, I had to run and walk on tiptoes,” he recalled. “By middle school, I was not able to get up the stairs. I could walk for 10 minutes, but then I would need to take a break.”
Throughout his childhood and early teen years, Alvarez’s condition seemed to defy diagnosis. When he was 16, a neurologist was able to pinpoint the cause of Alvarez’s health issues. “I had a neuromuscular disease called spinal muscular atrophy, which deteriorates my muscles,” he continued. “If I don’t work on that, I could get into a vegetative state.”
This diagnosis coincided with a Food and Drug Administration approval of a medicine to treat spinal muscular atrophy. The results of this treatment became almost immediately apparent.
“Compared to before, I can get out of a chair much easier,” he said. “I am way bigger than I was before. I used to be super, super, super skinny.”
Inspired by his journey to improved health, Alvarez sought to inspire others through his experience and the lessons he absorbed in an entrepreneurship class at Seymour High School.
Alvarez created MADE Clothings, which features T-shirts that boast the word “MADE” at heart level — the “A” in “MADE” is replaced with a red ink Japanese character for “made.”
“The word ‘made’ represents those who have made it or are in the process of making it through any hardship,” Alvarez explained, adding that he chose the red for the Japanese character because it symbolized “love, passion and desire.”
Alvarez’s shirts are unisex designs running the size gamut from small to extra large with a retail price of $24.99. He initially sought out an online distributor to handle the manufacturing and then switched to Seymour-based screen printing and embroidery company Grand Concepts. Although he set up an online site at madeclothings.com and maintains social media pages at Facebook and Instagram, Alvarez has found he gets more customer interest when he relates the story behind his endeavor.
“I just started talking to people about my story,” he said. “And as soon as I told them about my mission statement, they just started giving me money and saying, ‘I want a shirt to support you.’ People love the story.”
Alvarez has employed guerrilla-style retailing at his high school and college campuses, and he estimated that he’s sold about 50 shirts. While schoolwork dominates his schedule, he uses his spare time to expand his nascent business.
Alvarez is toying with other startup business ideas, including a plan for a social media marketing platform, and he is hopeful that he can take his experiences into a career as an inspirational speaker.
“I want people to know that if they have something or they are going through something, it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “I know because I’ve been there. I want to empower people — not just go out there and do your best, but to let them know that if you really put your mind to it, you can really do anything you want to in life.”