Fif Ghobadian: Paving a Road Out of Prison

At Road Twenty-Two in San Francisco, women who served time in prison get a second chance.


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Fif Ghobadian – CEO + Co-Founder – Road 22

FIF: There are a lot of socially responsible companies, however there aren’t
that many, that focus on the formerly incarcerated.

SOT: That burgundy looks pretty bloody good on you.
-I know, thank you. I’ve been asking Sheri can I have one. I’m going to represent Road 22.
-You already represent Road 22.

FIF: Road 22 is a fashion brand with a social mission to employ women who’ve been formerly incarcerated. We came up with the name Road 22 because it’s the road out of Chowchilla Prison, and it’s the road out of that system.

TEXT: Fif Ghobadian – CEO and Co-Founder – Road 22, San Francisco, CA USA

FIF: There are 2.4 million incarcerated in the U.S. 70% of the people who get incarcerated end up back in the system. When doors are shut and life gives you a bad card how do you undo that? How do you reverse the hands of fate and go back on track?

TEXT: Fif was born in Iran. Her parents fled the 1979 revolution.

FIF: We grew up really affluent in Iran so it was a pretty comfortable life and then the reality hit that assets were frozen in Iran. My dad couldn’t go back and my parents had to claim bankruptcy.

TEXT: Fif and her family moved to the U.S. and settled north of San Francisco.

TEXT: Her mother and father struggled to support the family.

FIF: I’ve seen in my life what life is like when you have everything plus more. And then at a very young age I saw the extreme opposite.

TEXT: Her mother sold her wedding ring so Fif could attend Claremont McKenna College.

TEXT: In 1984 she graduated in Economics and Accounting and began a career in corporate finance.

FIF: I worked for Levis, I worked for the Gap and then went through the whole corporate world in accounting. When I was about 32, 33 I decided, “You know what, I really wanna have kids.”

TEXT: To have the flexibility to be a single mother, Fif changed careers and went into the mortgage industry.

TEXT: As her children grew, she got restless.

FIF: I was reading Orange Is The New Black. This woman goes to jail after ten years for something really minor, and what scared me is that once you cross that line and you’re incarcerated it’s almost impossible to come back into society.

FIF: And I thought, “You know what, I wanna kind of do something to make, that makes a difference.” I always thought it’d be great to create clothes that competes with like the Gap but it’s cool, like T-shirts, sweatshirts that really felt good, that look good, and then I married the two ideas.

TEXT: In 2013 Fif asked her friend, and now domestic partner, Alice Larkin Cahan to design the shirts.

FIF: We had never ever thought about how to even make a shirt, didn’t know anything about it. And so, you know, we went, interviewed people. It took us 6 months to create our first shirt. And we launched the company within a year of the idea.

TEXT: Fif sold an investment property to fund Road 22. The shirts are sewn in a factory in downtown San Francisco. Fif hires women returning from prison to trim, fold and package the shirts.

FIF: The number one issue we battle with is self-esteem. They feel like they’re not worth anything so trust is a huge factor. They have had no concept of working, and it’s difficult for the people to come and work for 13 bucks an hour because guess what? They make more money if they’re hustling in the streets.

TEXT: Road 22 has hired 8 formerly incarcerated women to date. The shirts retail for $65 to $85 online and in dozens of stores nationwide.

FIF: One reason the shirts are higher priced is because it’s to bring awareness to a segment of the population that can make a difference. If you take it to someone who normally buys a designer shirt for like $115 and now you bring this message across maybe eventually people will realize this is a problem.

TEXT: To reach more people and provide more support to her staff, Fif is expanding the product line.

FIF: We wanna have the fashion brand continue and we want to create a lower-priced line, a little less detail in the shirts that we can use for corporate marketing, corporate branding because that’s more volume generated, a higher revenue stream.

TEXT: Fif still works as a mortgage broker.

FIF: It’s tough, definitely tough. The goal is that Road 22 will grow to the point where I don’t have to be a mortgage broker and work on Road 22.

SOT: All she need is a social worker or case manager.

-And that still takes six month to a year?

-It, it might take less than that because she’s homeless. It depends on her

FIF: I love seeing people wear the clothes. That’s fantastic. But the most gratifying is the change in the women’s lives. You know, just even if we change four people’s lives, right, that’s a big change.

Posted: January 10, 2017

Nusha Balyan at The Story ExchangeFif Ghobadian: Paving a Road Out of Prison