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UCLA

Using Fashion to Fight Famine

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By Adam Tilford '15

Published Sep 24, 2013 8:00 AM


After seeing Kenyan children rummage through garbage to find food, Steven Ng decided to take action.

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One of the Global Ties bracelets.

"Hunger is something no human should feel," says UCLA junior Steven Ng. As a volunteer on a relief trip to Kenya last summer, the economics major saw barefoot children rummaging for food in heaps of trash, and he learned a jarring statistic: While the United Nations estimates it would take $30 billion to end global hunger, consumers already spend $170 billion a year on beauty supplies and cosmetics.

So when he got back, Ng felt compelled to do something. He decided to create a fashion item that could be sold to benefit the hungry. Having founded a fashion accessory company last year, he applied his experience to form a nonprofit called Global Ties, which sells bracelets that Ng designs. All the proceeds go to the famine-relief charity Why Hunger. There are three purchase options: a $9 bracelet that feeds 12 people, a $15 bracelet that feeds 24 or a $30 bracelet that feeds 48. The venture has already raised nearly $18,000.

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UCLA junior Stephen Ng holding one of the bracelets he designed for his nonprofit.

Ng has always been a self-starter. When he was growing up, he realized that paying for college was going to be difficult for his parents, who didn't finished high school and who run small businesses in San Francisco.

"My mom always said, ‘Wherever you decide to go, we’ll financially support you. We’ll sell the house. We’ll refinance our mortgage. We’ll sell everything,’" Ng says. But he didn’t want to ask that of his parents.

So, soon after starting as a freshman at UCLA, he went to work 23 hours a week at a law firm, while also taking a full course load. The money he made went toward expenses: “food, travel expenses, books, whatever I didn’t have to get from my parents," he says.

By the time he was a sophomore, he had saved some money to start a business called Elliot Havok. His first product—sunglasses with wooden temples—didn’t sell well, but his second—a wallet that enables users to expose the magnetic strip of a credit card for purchases without removing the entire card—did.

"I showed [my mom] that I had raised over $64,000 in two months, and she was absolutely shocked," says Ng, who sells his items online. "At that point I told her that she wouldn’t have to worry about paying for my education any longer.”

Ng has considered dropping out of school to focus on his work, but his mother wants him to graduate so he plans to complete his studies in three and a half years. And despite all the demands on his time, he has a 3.3 GPA.

"I’m a full-time student, full-time CEO and full-time director of a nonprofit," he says, "and an occasional part-time sleeper."

This story is based on an article in UCLA Today. To view the original full-length article, visit http://ucla.in/1e0HmS6

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