When Michael Clapp (’09) learned to sew his merit badges onto his Boy Scout sash, he didn’t know his skills would one day pay off by helping fund cancer research.
“My mother taught me and my sister to sew when we were kids,” he says. Although his sister, Aerli Austen, developed a love of making dresses, she became an actress and film producer. Clapp’s passion turned to architectural design. He earned a degree in architecture from UT and went back home to work in North Carolina.
Then his mom, Barbara, gave him a new take on the design principle: form follows function. It took him back to the family sewing machine to fill a need with a new type of design.
Barbara was battling lung cancer. As she sat in chilly chemotherapy rooms with cold medicine coursing through her, she decided that patients really needed a new type of garment. It would do more than keep them warm. Barbara’s garment would create a dignified treatment process, giving caregivers easy access to a patient’s treatment ports and eliminating the need to remove clothing or reposition it. She even imagined the profits from the garment sales going to cancer research.
Clapp and his sister began altering some of their mom’s clothing to see if they could produce the effects she described. “She’d say, ‘Could you put a zipper in the sleeve?’ and we would go to the sewing machine and put one in,” he says.
Unfortunately, Barbara “did not get the chance to see many of the prototypes that we would eventually end up creating,” Michael says. “Her lung cancer was very aggressive at the end, and it was not long after we sewed the initial zippers into some of her existing sweatshirts that she was no longer with us.”
Determined to turn her idea into reality, the siblings founded One Day Apparel. They took the name from Barbara’s philosophy of living one day at a time and used a bird in the logo because she loved to watch birds at her feeder.
“We started with the money in our pockets,” Clapp explains. “We decided to sell T-shirts with our logo and graphics to create seed money for producing the specialty garment.” As they began telling people at local events and fairs what they were doing, interest and sales grew, and One Day began receiving donations.
Clapp and his sister created “countless prototypes looking at functionality and comfort” to produce the specialty garment their mom envisioned. “It was a fun challenge,” he admits. “The seams were intricate and sometimes they caused design problems.”
It took a year and a half of work with help from a patternmaker, a textiles company, and a garment production firm to begin selling their finished product. It’s a light, soft pullover sweater with zippers and buttons that allow treatment port access.
“Now that we have the specialty garment, we hope to use the sales to be self-sustaining,” Clapp explains. One Day continues to sell T-shirts in several styles, along with a line of accessories the designer AustenA created after learning their story.
Moving sales into additional markets is another one of their goals. “Our big aim is to approach oncology centers and hospital gift shops to sell our merchandise,” Clapp says.
They also want to attract more supporters of cancer patients as they grow their outreach. “It would be wonderful to see two people walking down the street wearing these garments and not know if one is a patient or neither are patients, but rather that they support this common cause,” he says. “The foundation is to help support finding a cure. Whoever makes a purchase, the money will go toward research.”
As One Day’s profits increase, they plan to add several donation partners. They chose their current partner, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, because of the charity’s involvement in the life-saving surgery of a good friend with a brain tumor. “My mom knew him,” Clapp says. “It was appropriate.”
Thanks to those childhood lessons from his mom, Clapp and his sister have helped create a clothing design that is transforming lives and launched a business to support it. Although they sorely miss her being part of their growing success, Clapp says his mom “would be very proud to see how far we’ve come today!”