MOORHEAD — Kyle Voltin almost didn’t go that night, the Friday night two years ago when everything changed.
If he hadn’t, Xtra Apparel Co. might never have been born. Xtra Apparel Co. is a clothing line offering lightweight, comfortable apparel that properly fits and benefits people with Down syndrome. Voltin runs the business — for now — from his Moorhead home.
“It’s a pretty universal challenge,” Voltin said.
Voltin said his brother Brett, who was born with Down syndrome, has been a constant source of inspiration throughout his entire life. But it was an invitation to a Friday night fundraising gala that started it all in earnest.
In March 2018, Voltin said, a friend invited him to the gala for GiGi’s Playhouse Fargo, an achievement center offering a plethora of therapeutic, educational and social programs designed to address the needs of people with Down syndrome.
“He had no idea that I had a brother with Down syndrome,” Voltin said. “At the time, I had no idea what GiGi’s Playhouse was, or what it was even involved with.”
When he found out where he was going, his first quiver of shock rippled through him.
“Wow,” he said.
Once at the table, Voltin, his wife and the audience were treated to a testimonial video that featured a segment with a young female modeling dresses; that was the first moment he was reminded of how difficult finding clothes can be.
“I was taken back to my mom going through those frustrations,” Voltin said.
He also realized that frustration wasn’t unique to his family. The average individual with Down syndrome, he said, is approximately 7 inches shorter than someone without, male or female. It makes finding clothes off the rack, especially pants, a near impossibility.
Voltin also pointed out that 1 in 4 individuals with Down syndrome are also on the autism spectrum, making them sensitive to fabrics. His realizations, he said, reinforced what was rapidly becoming a business idea.
“It helped validate the need,” he said.
Something else within him was being validated, too.
“I just felt like all of this stuff happening, and then when the idea hit me, it was too serendipitous to not pursue and get serious about trying to fix this problem,” he said.
A new purpose
By day, Voltin works in the life, auto, home and commercial insurance field. As it happened, in March 2018 he was in line for a promotion. He didn’t get it.
“That not happening did kind of ignite the flame,” he said.
With a purpose, and now a clearer direction of where to walk with it, Voltin decided to take the next step. And that’s when the idea for the logo, and the name of his company, rippled through him in yet another shock wave.
“The X is made to resemble an X chromosome, which is the cause of Down syndrome," he said of the logo.
Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. There are typically only two copies of it, but Down syndrome results when there is an extra copy.
He trademarked his logo and then reached out to someone who could help him wholesale the clothing. By September 2018, the company officially was in business.
At this point, he’s focused on select items: shirts, sweatshirts, onesies and hats. The shirts can feature not only the logo, but riffs on the theme with specialty hashtags such as #XtraLoved, #XtraSassy and #XtraBlessed.
The fabrics are chosen for their softness and comfort.
The idea was so simple, woven with threads Voltin’s recognized his entire life, he’s stunned now that it hadn’t occurred to him before. And every month seems to bring him a surer footing on his chosen path.
Cold-calling in the digital age, which in this case largely meant prospecting via Instagram, brought some early success. Boutique 23, with two locations in Bismarck as well as an online site, quickly agreed to include Xtra Apparel in its stock.
Danita Silbernagel, Boutique 23’s manager, said she was more than happy to meet with Voltin.
“We thought it would go over really well,” Silbernagel said.
She said she was unaware of what a struggle it can be when shopping for clothes. This allows easy access, as well as something more.
“It’s to bring awareness,” she said.
More than clothes
Every time an item is sold, Xtra Apparel donates $1 to a charity or organization benefiting the Down syndrome community. Initially, it’s gone to GiGi’s Playhouse, where Voltin attended the gala almost two years ago.
“They’ve been really supportive throughout my first year of doing business,” Voltin said.
The feeling is mutual.
Heather Lorenzen, site manager for GiGi’s Playhouse Fargo, met Voltin shortly after Xtra Apparel was formed.
“He’s been a supporter of our playhouse and our programs,” Lorenzen said.
Last December, Brett and Kyle presented them with a check from their proceeds thus far. The move, she said, was a touching one.
“It was a generous donation,” she said.
It was also important because, as Lorenzen pointed out, GiGi’s Playhouse doesn’t receive any state funding. They’re 100% donation-based.
There’s also a clear synergy of mission between the two.
“Our mission is to change the way the world views Down syndrome,” Lorenzen said, “and bringing a global message of acceptance.”
If every sale brings Voltin’s company closer to making more sizable donations, it also brings it closer to realizing a grander potential.
Eventually, Voltin said he hopes customers will be able to buy pants. He envisions customers sending in their measurements so the alterations could be done by his company. He would also love to give people in the Down syndrome community the chance to run their own websites and be their own sales representatives.
“It really boils down to financial inclusion,” Voltin said. “A big component of financial inclusion is providing consumer options for people with special needs, so that’s one part of it, but a bigger need comes to being able to afford independence. Being able to have a career. Being able to earn an income.”
It’s about so much more than the clothes. The clothes are important, though.
“We don’t have to stop at creating pants just for people with Down syndrome,” he said. “People wear a shirt with a Nike logo, or with Under Armor on it, and don’t think twice. Well, what’s the motivation behind that? Hopefully, everyone can get on board with what we’re trying to do.”
It ought to be as easy, in the end, as finding that perfect pair of pants.
What: Xtra Apparel Co.
Contact: 612-710-9036 or email@example.com
Find out more
What: GiGi’s Playhouse Fargo
Where: 3224 20th St. S., Fargo
Contact: 701-551-7529 or firstname.lastname@example.org