Meet Klea Ndoci, the founder of a California-based girl gang helping women fight addiction and homelessness

In 2015, The Atlantic published a piece on homelessness and cited women as one of the largest demographics in the industrialized nation. With more susceptibility to sexual assault, violence and a lack of access to basic hygienic necessities such as menstruation products, homelessness is a much more multifaceted experience for women. When coupled with additional layers of addiction or marginalization, the impact is significantly more profound.

That’s where Klea Ndoci, founder of San Diego-based girl gang Doll Face Club, comes in.

We recently spoke to Ndoci, whose clothing-brand-turned-girl-gang landed an episode on MTV’s reputable True Life, documenting the gang’s mission to assist women struggling with addiction and homelessness.

Ndoci, 27, originally hailed from the country of Albania — then later, until the age of 6, Northern Italy — before calling San Diego home. Her childhood wasn’t as sunny as the coastal city counterpart she inhabited, though. Battling addiction and homelessness at a young age, Ndoci got candid about her time in rehab and growing up with an abusive father, a well-known musician in Albania. “He had this persona of being an amazing man but behind doors, he tortured my mom and my sister and me,” Ndoci reflected.

Following a cathartic high that accompanied helping others through community service, Ndoci now works to help the women in her San Diego community. From all things Doll Face Club to the power of dream boards, below are more insights from our interview.

HelloGiggles: In your MTV True Life episode, you’re tracking down an old friend who’s still using drugs to help her and we’re introduced to Doll Face Club, but let’s start from the beginning. How did your battle with drug addiction and homelessness start?

Klea Ndoci: At the age of 10, [my dad] got taken away by the police so my mom had to fend for her own. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment. My mom was a manager at a restaurant and I worked there, and that’s how I got into drugs. That’s the first time I’ve ever tried the drugs I fell in love with. It went downhill really quick. A lot of things happened in my family where we had nowhere to go [and] there was even a time when my mom was in a mental ward. By the time I was a teenager, I was already more comfortable in the streets than having any home life, which I think a lot of girls can relate to — when they’ve got a traumatic home life, they find refuge in men or the streets or whatever it is. I was always getting in trouble. I found some kind of impulse in me to always be doing something fucked up.

HG: What was it like to revisit those places from your past when you were tracking her down?

KN: What’s ironic is that I live down the street. I live on the cusp of my old hood and the nicer part of the new area. People think you have to get out of your area — you have to do all of these crazy things — but sometimes, it takes you being exactly where you were to change. It’s scary, but at the same time, sometimes I need that to remind myself that I’ve come a long way really fast.

HG: It took 9 years to re-start your life after your stint in jail. Describe that turning point, that revelation that made you realize you needed change.

KN: When I was 16 years old, I went to rehab and I was like, ‘Holy fuck I need this shit.’  I knew that I was gonna die out in the streets the way I was living. But I kept going back out – I kept getting lured back. The last time I got arrested, I was 21. It was for possession with intent to sell. With that charge, it was an aggravated felony, which meant that I was gonna get deported. I got taken by immigration, and for nine months I was in immigration jail. There was nothing anyone could do.

I don’t know what happened, but I [somehow] got one chance. I’m not gonna say that I got out and I got it right away, but I had fear for the first time in my life when I’ve never had fear before. It was the fear of not just losing my family, but losing myself. The things I were involved with were so evil. I don’t know what happened. I wish I could tell you that what happened was [the generic] clouds opening.

HG: Tell me more about Doll Face Club.

KN: I already had a group of females that I did business with in a positive way. The girls who were in [MTV’s True Life] I had met in treatment. So, we’ve been doing this for three years. We’re gonna be doing pop-up shops in different cities [and] helping the women in those different cities. With the clothing, what I do is super unconventional. There’s nothing brand new in my store. I go to thrift stores, find things that I like, and change it. I’m honestly surprised that people even like my shit enough. The payback you get from it is a high I think everyone needs to experience.

I was 18 when I checked myself into rehab in L.A. I had been traveling at that time by myself in a dirty-ass way of living. So, in that rehab, the only way they paid for your treatment is through community service. That’s the first time I ever did it. I never forgot that feeling. I was 18 and full of myself. It opened my eyes. I was like, ‘Holy shit, there’s more to the world than surviving.’  It was just the gratitude [the homeless] felt over a sandwich while I’m over here doing evil things, trying to get something out of the world.

HG: Your True Life episode ended with the club handing out stuffed animals with positive affirmations. What are some other things the club has done?

KN: Last year in June, we went to a teen group home. I really, really believe in dream boards. I’m a total visionary. There were about 30 girls there. Right when we got there, these girls were jerks and laughing at us [and giving us] attitude. I was trying to be patient. By the time we were done, all of them had done dream boards and didn’t want us to leave!

We’ve [also] gone to charter schools to do dream boards, and senior homes on Mother’s Day to make cards. We’ve collected clothes for summer and winter to do drives. We once did a mismatched sock drive because everyone has a bag of mismatched socks — the homeless don’t care when it’s freezing. Whatever we do, I try my best to make it free. We’ve done hygienic bags with things like shampoo and conditioner.

HG: After everything that you’ve been through, what piece of advice would current you tell 10-year-old you?

KN: [Long pause.] It’s a hard question because I don’t regret anything that’s happened. I feel like every little thing — every traumatizing thing that’s happened to me — has all been for a reason. It was a way for me to connect with somebody else.