UMass grads start charitable clothing line

By Aviva Luttrell

They spent their senior year together at the University of Massachusetts, developing and launching a clothing line with a social conscience.

In the fall after they graduated, they made their first charitable donation, and a month ago, the two – Dan Barrenechea and Erica Baptise, both 2012 graduates of UMass – traveled to Peru to meet the children who have benefited from their vision.

Courtesy of Dan Barrenechea

“It was a milestone in my career, in my life. I’ve never done anything like that before,” Barrenechea said.

Barrenechea founded Nazca Line Apparel and Baptiste designed the collection, which features designs based on ancient Peruvian culture.

This summer, the two traveled across the United States promoting their line, and they visited Peru to meet the 60 children in the city of Tacna who have been aided by their donations.

While there, Barrenechea and Baptiste were also able to see the source of their inspiration – the mysterious Nazca Lines. The Nazca Lines are ancient desert drawings that are estimated to be 2,000 years old, and are so large they can only be completely seen from an airplane.

Barrenechea said that he got the idea to create a clothing line after a family trip to their home country of Peru in the summer of 2011. He and his father found tag-less pants with interestingly patterned designs at a market, and decided to purchase 10 pairs to bring home and sell.

“We just started thinking it would be cool to bring some Peruvian culture to America,” Barrenechea said.

Although he wasn’t able to see the Nazca Lines on that trip, Barrenechea said that the area he and his family visited was nearby, and he was inspired after learning about them.

“I thought about creating a kind of interpretation of those Nazca Lines, because I’ve come to find that a lot of people in America don’t know about them,” he said. “I think it would be a really cool way to spread the word, and of course I want to give back to the country.”

In his senior year at UMass, Barrenechea collaborated with Baptiste, a studio arts major who he had been friends with since freshman year.

“I had the concept; I just needed the designs,” he said.

Baptiste hadn’t heard about the Nazca Lines before, but she too was intrigued after learning about them, and she came up with seven different sketches for their first line of T-shirts.

Her designs include a hummingbird, two variations of a monkey, hands, a spaceman and two variations of a condor. Men’s and women’s shirts are available in high-quality Peruvian Pima cotton in blue, beige and white. They are manufactured in a Lima factory owned by a friend of Barrenechea’s father.

Although the first shipment of shirts didn’t arrive until the summer after graduation, Barrenechea said that he found himself relying on his UMass education as he developed his business.

“All through senior year I was able to apply everything I was learning at Isenberg to this project,” Barrenechea said. After reading a book by the founder of TOMS Shoes in his sustainable marketing class, Barrenechea said he was inspired to pursue social entrepreneurship.

Initially, Barrenechea wanted to model his company off of TOMS – a for-profit business that donates one pair of shoes for every pair sold. Barrenechea said, however, that he quickly realized that shoes were more functional than T-shirts, so he began looking for a different way to give back, and eventually decided to donate five percent of profits to charity.

Barrenechea found the opportunity he was looking for last August while peddling his clothing in Harvard Square. A Peruvian woman, intrigued by the designs, stopped to chat, and Barrenechea mentioned to her that he was looking for a charity to work with. The woman happened to be a volunteer for AlliancExchange, a non-profit organization based in Somerville..

“Fast forward a couple of months, and we’re making our first donation,” Barrenechea said.

On Nov. 13 of last year, Nazca Line Apparel donated $1,500 to the charity to fund its effort, “Give Back—Buy a Backpack,” which supplies children in Tacna, Peru, with backpacks filled with a year’s supply of school, art, hygienic and recreational supplies. This initial donation supported 30 children, and was significantly greater than the five percent of profits Barrenechea had originally promised.

“We just wanted to start off with a bang,” he said.

This past summer, Barrenechea and Baptiste took a two-month, 11,000-mile road trip across 26 states to promote their clothing line at festivals and in stores.

“We had wonderful results in Chicago, Boulder, Denver, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Sedona, San Francisco, Austin, New Orleans and Asheville,” Barrenechea said.

A month later, they were finally able to travel to Peru to meet the children of Tacna.

“At the beginning we were kind of shy … they were kind of shy. By the end of it I had them on my backs and we were running around,” Barrenechea said.

On Sept. 18, Nazca Line Apparel presented its second donation of $500 to AlliancExchange. According to a press release from the organization, the partnership has enabled AlliancExchange to increase its school supplies program six fold in three years, so that they’re now able to support 60 children.

Although the efforts have been rewarding, Barrenechea said there’s still plenty of challenges to overcome.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I go up and down; it’s a rollercoaster of emotions.”

Barrenechea said that he’s found that success comes from being consistently creative and putting himself and his company out into the world.

“To really stick out and make something interesting, you really have to be unique,” he said. “It’s challenging to break through the overstimulation of people.”

One of the next projects Barrenechea hopes to work on is an animated video for the company’s website, which will animate the Nazca Lines.

“That’s what we’re all about. We’re kind of like waking up these Nazca Lines and bringing them to life,” he said.

Barrenechea, who is also a musician, said that he’d like to use some of his original scores in the video.

In November, Nazca Line Apparel will unveil a line of hooded sweatshirts featuring brand new designs.

“I don’t really want to milk our designs, so we have to come out with new things,” Barrenechea said.

In the future, he hopes to expand the line to include other types of clothing such as skirts and hats. A new line of T-shirts will be available in spring 2014.


Aviva Luttrell can be reached at [email protected]