IF THE BEST ART is created from hard times, then dfrntpigeon is a fashion brand to keep your eye on. Pronounced "different pigeon," the clothing design startup is a partnership between Portland's New Avenues for Youth—serving homeless and at-risk young people—and digital design firm AKQA (who've worked with such heavy-hitters as Nike and Warner Bros. Interactive).

The idea is deceptively simple: Homeless youth are mentored by AKQA professionals, and are paid to design and market a clothing line that springs from their own lives and experiences. However, after this training, the philosophy switches to more of a hands-off approach.

"We bring the industry experience, and New Avenues brings the talent," says AKQA Group Creative Director Ginny Golden. "They're involved in every decision, every step of the way. The way we see it: It's their business, not ours."

The idea was born as a one-shot mentoring project—but when those at AKQA saw the potential of these young people, they knew it could be more.

"We saw a bigger opportunity to create a sustainable business that would create self-sufficiency," Golden says. "Through workshops, we teach them what goes into a design—the process of taking an idea from a thought to a tangible product. The goal is to create a self-sustaining business model and training program that involves more youth over time."

The reaction from the youth involved has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Golden, and those at AKQA have been extremely impressed with the group's dedication and talent.

Design Week will mark the launch of the brand with a "dfrntpigeon Tee Party," in which these young designers will show off their fashionable and impressive line of T-shirts (which will also be available at dfrntpigeon.com). But the idea behind dfrntpigeon shouldn't stop there. Hopefully this partnership will inspire other companies to share their experiences and knowledge with the youth who need it most.

"For us, applying design thinking to the problem of at-risk youth was something that made sense," Golden says. "Technology is democratizing everything from fashion to entrepreneurship to the cities that we live in—and dfrntpigeon brings those things together."

dfrntpigeon Tee Party
The Cleaners at the Ace Hotel, 403 SW 10th, Thurs April 21, 4-9 pm, free