Big Brother and the Clothing Company

Sometimes the shoe doesn’t fit.

Or the pants or the shirts.

Growing up with a brother with Down syndrome, Kyle Voltin ’02, often noticed his mom’s frustration in finding clothes that fit his brother’s body type. Today, the challenge remains—but Voltin has founded a business to fill that gap.

Brett Voltin (left) serves as a consultant for the clothing Kyle  Voltin includes in the Xtra line, which is available online and in more and more shops, including Scheels.

“My brother, never in his life has he been able to walk into Target or Kohl’s and find a pair of pants that fit him,” Voltin said. “He’s about a 38-inch waist and a 24-inch length. You can’t find that kind of thing on a large scale.”

Voltin’s entrepreneurial venture is rooted in mending that problem—but it happened by  complete chance. He was working as an insurance sales manager in the Fargo area when a co-worker invited him to a fundraiser benefitting a program called GiGi’s Playhouse. Unsure what was involved, he took two tickets because he and his wife were due for a date night.

GiGi’s Playhouse is a national program with achievement centers across the country aimed at supporting people with Down syndrome and their families.

“I had no idea what GiGi’s Playhouse was. [My friend] had no idea I had a brother with Down syndrome. It was kind of crazy,” Voltin said.

A video at the event showed GiGi—the namesake of the program—selecting dresses to wear to a gala.

“That is really when the idea first hit me, I guess, when the thought first came to mind,” Voltin said. “I was reminded of my mom voicing frustration several times when back-to-school shopping for my brother and trying to find clothing that fit him appropriately…I know it’s not just my brother. It’s a universal issue and challenge for people with Down syndrome because of the height disparity.”

So began the Xtra Apparel Co., named after the extra chromosome that results in Down syndrome. Voltin fell back on his mass communications major and art minor to design the company’s chromosome logo. Products include hats, T-shirts, baseball caps, running shorts, onesies and tights. The company offers not only sizes that fit, but fabrics that easily-irritated bodies can tolerate.

“One in four people with Down syndrome are also on the autism spectrum,” Voltin said. “People with autism oftentimes are very sensitive to fabric…The items we have are lightweight and soft to try to avoid that and make sure that’s not an issue. The tags are easy to rip off.”

Working from home, Voltin set up an online shop and had some local retailers stock the products. Recently, Scheels has agreed to stock the items beginning in March.

Voltin said he’s also in talks with other family businesses about becoming wholesalers for Xtra.

Brett Voltin (left) serves as a consultant for the clothing Kyle  Voltin includes in the Xtra line, which is available online and in more and more shops, including Scheels.

“It will likely take some time before I’m ready to cross that bridge, but it is exciting to at least begin the conversations and to hear from some families that are interested.”

Now in the Fargo-Moorhead area, Voltin grew up in Eden Prairie, where his parents and brother, Brett, remain. He was 9 years old when Brett was born.

“It was just a lot of questions, I guess, more than anything, and not knowing what to expect and what the future might hold. But watching him grow and getting to know him has just been tremendous. It’s been an outstanding experience and something I’m very thankful for.”

Brett’s involved in the business by providing feedback on styles and materials used. He’s also been in a few promotional videos with his brother.

“Eventually I’d like to have my brother and other individuals with Down syndrome able to have a web site of their own and essentially become sales consultants for Xtra,” Voltin said. “A big challenge of the Down syndrome community is finding a job or a career that can help them earn a living, gain independence and get out on their own. That’s part of the mission and what I’m hoping to achieve.”