The fashion industry is often accused of exploitation. David Lees was so moved by what he saw as an aid volunteer in Haiti he set up an ethical clothing company that would give something back to one of the poorest countries in the world by helping those in dire need. But first he has to overcome a personal disaster. Hilarie Stelfox reports

BROTHERS David and Paul Lees were inspired by the Haiti earthquake to set up an ethical clothing business.

But David – who witnessed the hardship endured by the earthquake victims first hand – is now recovering in hospital after he was attacked on a night out in Huddersfield town centre. The incident will almost certainly delay the launch of their fundraising Disaster Wear label.

Good Samaritan David, 23, from Barkisland, was beaten up by a group of men after going to the aid of a young woman in distress and suffered a broken jaw. An operation to repair his injuries was needed this week at Bradford Royal Infirmary.

Paul said: “David’s injury will have an impact on the business because he is unable to talk at the moment.”

However, the brothers hope that he’ll be back in action soon and their launch, planned for this month, will only suffer a minor setback.

It was while working in Haiti as an aid volunteer that David decided he wanted to do more to help the people struggling to rebuild their lives.

Speaking before the attack he said: “It wasn’t until I went there that I realised what a big job it will be.

“Only 5% of the rubble has been removed and even the Government building is still in ruins.”

Haiti, the most impoverished country in the Americas, was struck in January 2010 by an earthquake that killed 200,000 people. Today, more than 800,000 people are still homeless and living in temporary shelters.

At the time David volunteered with the American-based Grass Roots United Scheme as there was a widespread cholera epidemic caused by poor sanitation.

“It’s still pretty grim, a terrible mess,” said David, who was struck by the courage and stoicism of the Haitians.

“But the people are so nice and cheerful. You see the things people complain about in the UK and these people don’t even have a home, but keep smiling.”

On his return to Calderdale, David, who has a degree in American Studies and Business from Manchester Metropolitan University, did some market research and came up with the idea of a company that would sell menswear and donate 22.5% of its profits to aid projects in Haiti.

With no expertise in the fashion industry but with the help of his brother Paul, 21, who is an operations manager for a printing company, David searched for a source of fair trade and organic cotton through a UK supplier.

He found an Isle of Wight company that buys from a fair trade supplier in India.

He then asked students at Leeds University, Leeds College of Art, Manchester Metropolitan and Salford universities to come up with ideas for a brand logo.

The brothers decided on the brand name Disaster Wear and are currently building a website to promote their range of men’s T-shirts and polo shirts.

“We wanted a simple design, something that we would like to wear ourselves and that our friends liked,” said David, who is already thinking of ways to take the business forward into womenswear.

The menswear will be available to buy from late March through the website with prices between £20 and £30.

The chosen logo featured on the shirts has four concentric circles in different colours, representing natural disaster, fire, war and water-related disaster.

By raising funds themselves, the brothers say they will be able to directly support small aid charities in Haiti – and ultimately in other disaster areas.

“The problem with giving money to a big charity is that you don’t know what happens to it,’’ said David. “Our money will go to a good cause and we will be able to document and prove it.”

David now plans to travel periodically to Haiti.

“It’s very important that these people get what they need and not what charities think they should have,” he explained.

“For example, while I was in Haiti a charity built hundreds of wooden huts for people to live in without asking the people what they wanted. No-one lived in them – they pitched their tents next to them instead.”

In order to begin fundraising, David and Paul have to find local stockists for their merchandise as well as selling it through the website.

For further details search Disaster Wear on Facebook.

Their website will be available later this month.