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Local clothing company supports food banks through product sales

The numbers 5-4-1 have served as the area code for most of Oregon since 1995. But for the last two years, those three digits have been transformed into a fight against hunger.

541 Threads, a local clothing company, is using its numerical brand name to help feed the hungry in Central Oregon and throughout the state.

With a new storefront and a wider array of apparel, the company is living its motto, "five fed for every thread," by donating meals to food banks statewide. NeighborImpact and the Oregon Food Bank are two of its beneficiaries.

"It [the motto] adds to the value of the product and with the knowledge that every item means something, you can be proud of what you're wearing," said co-founder Patrick Wurtz.

The concept started two years ago when Wurtz and co-founder Zack Nutter put a $250 investment into a simple "541" design on a handful of T-shirts.

The two Bend High grads took their basic design and turned it into a much bigger purpose.

"We grew up here and wanted to have a specific cause connected to our product," said Nutter. "We are proud of where we come from and wanted to give back to the place that has been so good to us."

After starting with the idea of donating four meals for every T-shirt sold, a friend sparked the idea of bumping it up to five, which would coincide more clearly with their brand name.

Within a week of pitching their T-shirts to local businesses, The Blvd clothing shop in downtown Bend had picked up the home-grown brand.

The initial 24 T-shirts flew off the shelves. The orders were then doubled every week and as of today, 541's sales have resulted in over 23,000 donated meals.

"We're helping our neighbors in our own backyards that are really struggling and need our help," said Nutter.

Buoyed by 541's new store and stylish website, their innovative product has evolved rapidly over the past six months.

"It's been great so far. Our sales have doubled almost every week," said Wurtz. "We're really trying to push into the national market with our T-shirts and connecting an online buyer's purchase with a local food bank in their area."

The nucleus of the company also includes designer and co-CEO Conan Breitmeier, who mentioned that the company recently promoted its innovative T-shirts at a few Portland trade shows.

"It's this culture that's growing where people are getting more conscious about where their money is going," Breitmeier said.

In their quest to promote the brand nationwide, the crew started a monthlong Kickstarter campaign on Dec. 10 to raise money for travel expenses as well as the extensive filming process for their proposed documentary, Making MAGIC.

The film would follow the guys on their road trip from Bend to Las Vegas as they prepare for the MAGIC fashion trade show. The ultimate goal would be to sell their product to a major retailer.

They have already secured over $4,000 in pledges to help pay for the film, but they need to raise $6,000 by Jan. 9 to make the documentary a reality.

"The purpose of it is to spread the consciousness of a business entity that blurs the line between making profits and helping out others," said Joe Hite, the documentary's filmmaker and owner of local video production company Visual Engineering.

"That's what we're asking the people of Central Oregon to help us out with," he said.

If they don't raise the funds, the guys will still be showcasing their products at the trade show but will not pursue the documentary, Wurtz said.

As the company's vision grows and product sales flourish, its goals will remain the same: minimize the statewide hunger epidemic one thread at a time.

"It's not just selling our clothes, it's the mission that is really making a difference," Breitmeier said.

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