A little clothing kiosk in Fashion Fair mall has a big backstory.
Fly Kidz, in front of the Disney Store, was started by a Reedley family. The line of children's streetwear was inspired by their autistic 7-year-old son.
Ian Escoto, who doesn't talk, picked out many of the images printed on the shirts. Soon, a percentage of sales will go to a nonprofit supporting families dealing with autism.
The kiosk, set up three weeks ago, sells brightly colored T-shirts with an urban feel, featuring images of headphones, a break dancer and more. Some say "Fresh since birth" and "Dare to be different."
Fly Kidz also sells pants, hats, onesies for babies and recently added girls dresses, jewelry and ruffled bloomers with bows designed to be worn over diapers.
The kiosk is a spin-off of the store in Reedley of the same name at 1036 G St. that opened two years ago. Ian's mom, Jackie Garcia-Escoto, has a degree in fashion merchandising from Fresno State, but she never intended to start a T-shirt business.
Ian was diagnosed with autism when he was 4 years old and has a rare genetic disorder in which a tiny part of a chromosome is missing. When he needed 20 hours of in-home therapy a week, requiring a parent to be there, Garcia-Escoto quit her job at Wells Fargo to be with him.
She never intended to be a stay-at-home mom and the transition was tough. She and her husband, Jose Escoto, bought some printing equipment for her to use as a hobby.
Ian wanted to help his mom design shirts during breaks in his therapy and that soon became a reward for completing sessions.
He picked bright colors: bold royal blue, lots of red, yellow and pink. And he chose some of the designs on the shirts.
"Ian doesn't speak, so it was more motion he was giving me," Garcia-Escoto says. "He'd make the motion (that) he wanted headphones."
Ian uses an iPad with a special program to communicate, pointing to pictures stored on it.
They made some shirts and quickly discovered that other little boys liked the same bright colors, including pink, that Ian did. People started stopping her in Walmart or at the mall asking where she got shirts with such images on them.
"Besides cartoon dinosaurs and lions, it's really hard to find streetwear for little boys," she says.
The family prints the shirts from its shop in Reedley, though that could change soon.
The "Dare to be different" print on one shirt has turned into a motto for the family.
Though some people would worry about children with autism fitting in, Ian's family doesn't.
"The great thing is he doesn't want to blend in," Garcia-Escoto says. "He wants to stand out."
After all, this is the boy living in a family of San Francisco Giants fans who told them he was a Dodgers fan, showing them a picture on his iPad.
These days Ian still picks out the colors, but his parents choose the images based on things he's into, such as camping. His little brother Arum, 4, is involved in the process, too.
The family is forming a nonprofit organization called A Puzzle Piece to My Heart. A puzzle piece appears on the clothing tags because "every child with autism has a different puzzle piece that has to be met," Garcia-Escoto says.
When the nonprofit is official, the company will start donating a portion of sales to help families dealing with autism, learning disabilities or speech delay. They hope to buy iPads and the app that Ian uses to communicate for other families.
The iPad and app — which cost about $300 each — have helped Ian make huge strides in how he communicates and has significantly cut down on tantrums.
The Fly Kidz label now has a sales rep who markets it to stores nationwide. The shirts are in nine boutiques in three states.
Jose has quit his job as a Bank of America vice president to help his wife run the business. And the family has been contacted by three other malls — in Clovis, Visalia, Modesto and Bakersfield — who want them to open kiosks.
You can see more of the clothing online at www.facebook.com/ flykidzclothing.
More mall news
In other news at Fashion Fair, the store Love Culture is closing. The company has filed for bankruptcy and is closing stores nationwide. The store has not released a closing date.
The mall expects to name a replacement store soon.
A store called Metal Mulisha will replace No Fear, opening Friday. The store sells similar products to No Fear, and No Fear used to carry Metal Mulisha branded items.
Metal Mulisha sells clothing and accessories for the motocross, BMX and X Games lifestyle.
Kay Jewelers has moved into the outdoor portion of the mall temporarily while its original location is remodeled.
Hollister has reopened after closing for a month-long remodeling.
The mall has added Nicole's Shoes as a temporary tenant.
In the food court, Panda Express has opened.
Fashion Fair will eventually get a Chick-fil-A restaurant. Long-term plans call for tearing down the existing tire building near Shaw Avenue and rebuilding it as a Chick-fil-A.