A shop for social change

Ben Simonson comes in to work every week at a shop made largely of castoffs.

Glass panels recycled from shower doors surround part of the seating area in back. The couch sports a reclaimed denim exterior. Nearby, merchandise lines a shelf made of scrapwood; lighting hails from an old Urban Outfitters display.

The interior of the AoSA Project, which opened in August, consists in part of materials that were rerouted from the trash and given a use. And the products on the shelves aim to rescue people around the world from similarly bleak circumstances.

The AoSA Project stocks merchandise that benefits blighted groups of people, from Ugandan women to inner-city American children.

Simonson, one of the store's two managers, said every product must meet two criteria: It must give back to a social cause, and it must be of high quality.

Ultimately, he and his partners hope to encourage people to weigh factors other than price when deciding on a purchase.

"When you buy any product, there's a huge list of who benefits and who doesn't benefit," Simonson said.

The AoSA Project, tucked behind Trader Joe's in a shopping center at 16821 Algonquin St., is the first retail store opened by AoSA, a Huntington Beach-based company that manufactures T-shirts, banners, surfboards and other items with recycled materials. (The company's name stands for Art of Sports and Apparel.)

Director Michael Hill, who launched AoSA in 2006, didn't start the retail venture with personal wealth in mind. All the store's proceeds will go to local charities or schools, with Marina High School, Hill's alma mater, slated to receive the first funds for art or performing arts projects.

"It's a profitless retail store," said Hill, who knows employees at most of the brands AoSA stocks.

Among the companies represented in the store are Jedidiah, a clothing line that supports the charity StandUp for Kids; Ark Collective, which provides one backpack to a needy child for every one purchased; and Toms, which offers a similar deal with shoes. Two other products, 31 Bits jewelry and Krochet Kids International hats, are made by — and benefit — women displaced by war in Uganda.

In addition to retail, the staff plans to begin offering open-mic music nights and exhibiting work by local high school art students to increase its profile.

"We want to be a voice of positive change in the community — locally, globally, the whole thing," Simonson said.


Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB


Address: 16821 Algonquin St., Suite 104, Huntington Beach

Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Contact: (714) 743-8354

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