School Friends on a Mission to Help People, Environment

Glendale High School graduates Felipe Arias and James Mizuki recently joined forces to give new clothes to women at the Los Angeles Mission Women’s Shelter.
Photo courtesy James Mizuki

Though they largely grew up together, two Glendale High School graduates led widely divergent paths after grade school but were recently drawn together by a mutual need to give back.
And so the two young men — James Mizuki and Felipe Arias — got together last Saturday and gave out hundreds of items of clothing to the ladies who stepped off of Skid Row for a moment and paid a visit to the Los Angeles Mission Women’s Shelter.
“We ended up giving out eight full boxes of clothes, which probably translates to 350-400 items. It was just really positive overall,” said Mizuki, a 2011 graduate of GHS. “This ‘word-of-mouth’ buzz started happening and we had a lot of people show up. People were really looking out for their friends that day.”
The clothes were manufactured by iToo Clothing, which was formed in large part by Mizuki’s childhood friend Arias, who graduated from GHS in 2012; the pair both attended Wilson Middle School and played football together at GHS. While Mizuki enrolled in Cal State Northridge to study communications, Arias traveled to Hong Kong in lieu of his original plan to join the U.S. Coast Guard, where he ultimately linked himself to clothing manufacturing in China.
As fate would have it, Arias’ company has a location near Skid Row, so right away he thought of donation opportunities when he discovered a backlog of clothing thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and recalled a conversation he had with Mizuki about a nonprofit endeavor he was building.
“I knew James was on this project for a while,” Arias said. “Before he started the whole thing, he came to me and told me about it and I thought it was a great idea.”
Mizuki’s project, which is titled “The Giving App,” aims to develop a mobile application that will serve as a tool for charity-minded users, who can use information provided by the app to donate funds or commit to volunteer opportunities. Mizuki, who graduated from CSUN in 2017, admitted to having an introspective brainwave one morning following a birthday celebration with another friend.
“We spent really just so much unnecessary money on drinks and food and Ubers. We were pretty blown away by how much money we spent on nothing, really,” he explained, adding that they then wondered where they might donate their expendable income. “From that idea, it kind of started snowballing: What if 1 million people had $5 they gave a month to something? We could have a real impact and create a moment of kindness that could have a serious, lasting impact around the world.”
And so the idea was born: an app where users could search for charitable organizations — vetted for veracity by the development team — whose activities and updates they could follow, and who would publicize fundraising drives or a request for volunteers. In return for contributions, the organizations would publicly thank donors and explain to them specifically how their donated funds were allocated.
“It’s going to show people where their money is going and what’s happening; to build trust basically,” Mizuki said. “We realized that’s a big problem in the philanthropic world, that people don’t always know where their money is going. People want to give, but they don’t know whom to trust.”
After his epiphany, Arias settled in Guangzhou, where he became involved in clothing manufacturing and found the inspiration to form his own company, one that emphasized environmental sustainability and doing good work for the people of the world.
“I was always disheartened by all the pollution involved in manufacturing,” Arias explained. “Being in China, observing all that pollution happening, I wanted to start something more sustainable and care more about the world.”
Though the iToo Fashion wholesale distribution was run out of L.A., Arias remained in China the past six years, overseeing the manufacturing end of the operation while periodically returning stateside for business. He recalled his L.A. storefront’s proximity to Skid Row and how it stood in juxtaposition to society’s call to give and help.
“I would always drive by and wonder, ‘Why not do something here at home? People here also need some help, so I said you know what, let’s do a project here,’” he said.
The onset of COVID-19 ultimately prolonged his latest trip home, as China has yet to lift its restrictions on foreign travelers. While staying with family in La Cañada Flintridge and in between flights to Miami to get East Coast wholesale distribution off the ground, Arias said that’s when he discovered the extra clothing and contacted his old friend, Mizuki.
“Whenever I do events like that — when you bring joy to someone — it’s gratifying,” Arias said. “That’s kind of a little bit more fuel to going out and doing what you do.”
Mizuki said his team, which includes nearly two dozen others in development, hopes to do alpha and beta testing on the app soon and launch by the year’s end. He added that the pandemic represented an unexpected delay in development.
“Our development team really just started getting back to work two weeks ago,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure that it’s at a well-functioning place to do a launch definitely before the end of the year. Ideally, if we could do it by October or November, it would be awesome, but we definitely want to make sure we do it right. We don’t want somebody to download it, have a bad experience with it and then delete it. We want it to be up to par.”
Arias said he identified with one of the goals of the app, which was to help connect more people to worthwhile causes. He said he developed the instinct to give back after joining a mission to clean up a beach on an island in the Philippines, during which he and his firm donated toys and clothing to the local families who helped.
“It was very difficult to find something” to get involved with after returning stateside, Arias said, “so I think James’ app is going to be really helpful to people and make things less of a hassle.”

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