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Printing support for refugees, one T-shirt at a time

Hillsboro business owner hopes to improve immigrants' lives


HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - Hussein Al-Baiaty of Hillsboro launched a program earlier this year to work with local refugees. The company provides T-shirts to refugee families for job interviews.Give. Smile. Repeat.

To achieve happiness, that's all it takes, according to Hussein Al-Baiaty.

Al-Baiaty, who runs The Printory apparel design, 2020 N.W. Aloclek Drive, in Hillsboro is hoping to bring that happiness to people in need across the globe: Refugees.

"I was a refugee. I know what that’s like," said Al-Baiaty, 31. "And though I was young, I still can close my eyes and see (what) my brothers went through."

In 1991, Al-Baiaty's family fled the Middle East during the Iraq-Kuwait war and wound up in a refugee camp, where he lived for three years before eventually making it to the U.S. in 1994.

"I am so lucky," said Al-Baiaty, who lives in Beaverton. "My family and anyone that gets out of that situation is extremely fortunate. People here don't realize how good they have it — to be able to walk over to the sink and turn on water."

That's why Al-Baiaty established "Refutees," a special program he runs through his business. Al-Baiaty donates quality button-ups and polos to Portland-based nonprofits that provide social services to refugees and immigrants.

Al-Baiaty is doing something positive with his pain.

"I screen-print shirts. I'm not curing cancer, but I genuinely care about people … and I'm very fortunate to be able to do this, and I hope to God I can just do more."

'Not some used hand-me-down'

Al-Baiaty launched Refutees on June 22, the twenty-second anniversary of his arrival in America.

For every 100 shirts ordered, he'll set aside a handful of plain button-ups and polos. Once he fills a box with the items, he delivers it to the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization in Portland.

"Though we're a garment business, I'm choosing to leave them blank because I don't want these people to stand out for the wrong reasons," he explained. "They don't need that right now. I think they just need something to wear that makes them feel good about themselves — something new, not some used hand-me-down. Something good to make them feel human."

The shirts can be used for job interviews, Al-Baiaty said.

"Does it help promote my business? Absolutely," he said. "But ultimately, I'm giving something physical to someone in need."

Giving a shirt to someone may not seem like a lot, Al-Baiaty said, but it's a small gesture that can go a long way.

"I want this action to speak louder than any words," he said. "It's a human respect thing."

Admitting refugees into the U.S. has become a major political issue over the past year, with several governors across the country saying they would not allow refugees from war-torn Syria to settle into their states.

Al-Baiaty said he wants to fight that message.

"To be in a desert in a camp is traumatizing and it's hard,” he said. And to not accept these people, and to put up laws and walls because they can't help what's happening to them politically is so inhumane. We have laws to protect our dogs and our cats, but we're so quick to turn our backs on other human beings. And that hits me hard."

Overcoming adversity

Al-Baiaty has always been an artist, he said, screen-printing shirts with his own designs throughout college at Portland State University, where he earned a degree in architecture and minors in business and graphic design in 2011.

When he was unable to find work as an architect after graduation, Al-Baiaty decided to take his art more seriously and established a small screen-printing shop in Beaverton where he could put a few of his designs on shirts and sell them at Portland's Saturday markets.

Al-Baiaty found that his designs were successful, and he began gaining some local notoriety until an NBA representative saw one of his unlicensed Portland Trailblazer designs.

The NBA sued him for $4,000, which forced him to sell his business and all the screen-printing equipment.

"It broke me," he said. "It literally broke me."

Frustrated with the lawsuit, Al-Baiaty began re-growing his apparel business and planning a future for himself filled with riches and private jet trips to far off parts of the world. But during his dreaming, Al-Abaiaty found a new purpose for his life.

Following a TEDxTalk, Al-Baiaty was inspired to take his business' path in a different direction. "I started giving a s--- about people," Al-Baiaty said. "I realized it's not about the dollar, or the ad, or getting 10 percent off — or any of that stuff. It's really about caring about people that makes the difference."

Al-Baiaty speaks to middle and high school students in Beaverton and Hillsboro about his experiences as a child refugee, and the struggles he has faced since coming to America.

"I tell them the hardships because those were the defining moments in my life," he said.

Along with kindness, persistence and patience, Al-Baiaty talks about entrepreneurship, inspiration, and motivation.

"I talk about treating each other well," he said. "There are a lot more positive and real people in the world than most people realize … We just gotta be more positive toward people."




By Travis Loose
Reporter, Hillsboro Tribune
503-357-3181
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