I don’t know if a lot of companies take the time to tell their customers this, or if they do, if they are sincere about it, but: Every shirt I make is special to me.
Each of my designs was carefully crafted and illustrated to convey messages I think are important for people, grown ups and kids alike. I send out shirts all over the world and they are special to me because I know those messages will be sitting right over that person’s heart when they wear the shirt. So for a little girl who loves dinosaurs but never sees them on girls clothes, the dinosaur tee I make for her is special. Or a little boy who loves pink or turquoise, making a shirt for him in that color is no big deal at PPBB, I do it all the time for boys who know “Colors Are For Everyone”. Every time I send out a “Pretty’s Got Nothing To Do With It” tee, I think about the girl or woman wearing it and hope she knows how to define beautiful for herself and sees her own beauty, in every aspect of her being. I send out the tiniest of tees to newborn babies, and I think about them growing into kids who run around and whoop and holler. I think about each of you, and I love the orders with little messages telling me how the shirt I am about to make will be special to the recipient.
Today I was at my printer and walked back into the print shop with a handful of a few tees looking for Judy, the wonderful woman who is the one who actually heat presses each of your shirts. It isn’t unusual for me to walk in late in the day with just a few more tees I need pressed, have to get them out in time for a birthday party or vacation or special visit to the doctor. But today was different.
Today Judy and I made tees for a little girl who is very sick. She is so sick, she may not be here to grow into the next size t-shirt that I would make for her. I know this little girl, her mom and her dad. Today, these three t-shirts were different. Judy and I were quiet after I told her why they were so special, three Full of Awesome tees for a little girl who needs a big miracle. I picked them up and folded them, a neat little stack, still piping hot from the press. I fold every t-shirt I mail out. But these three, Judy and I put our hands on them at the same time and she said, “Can you make sure she knows these were made with love?”
Judy is an integral part of my team. She believes in the things we think are important – about honoring childhood and the little people in it. No gender stereotypes, no sexualization. Between the two of us, she and I have made 20,000 shirts or so in the fours years I’ve been in business. Every shirt I make is special to me.
But these three were different, for the little girl who may not be around to grow into the next bigger size. She needs a miracle, and I don’t make miracles. I just make t-shirts. And my t-shirt will sit right over her little heart, on a day she is hopefully feeling well enough to play. Or maybe a day she is sick, but she won’t go to the doctor because the doctors said they can’t do anything for her anymore.
And this is why I safeguard childhood so fiercely – because it is a privilege denied to many. Every kid should get the chance to like green, or pink. To catch a bug. Or run away screaming from one. Every kid should get to love a sport or have a favorite tutu or wear a favorite tutu while wearing a sport. Every kid should be able to explore whatever they want, play with whatever they want. Every kid should get every birthday.
Think about this the next time someone tells you to do more with your time when you are fighting gender stereotypes and sexualization in childhood. Every time someone asks why it matters, or tells you to just not buy it. Every time someone asks you why it is important. Childhood is important. It is important because kids are experts at childhood, but we keep getting in the way and messing it up. We should be doing a better job of protecting childhood. I wake up every day and go to work to do just that. Some days, I never even go to bed, I just change my clothes and get back to work with a new sunrise.
Think about this the next time you hear the comeback that companies exist to make money and for no other reason, that companies bear no responsibility to the consumer. I don’t think that is true. At least, that is not how I run my company. You bet I want to make money and be successful. I’m just not certain I need to sell my soul in order to do it. I think you can put heart into your business, and I don’t mean how hard you work at it. I mean how your business feels to other people.
People come to me for all sorts of reasons for t-shirts. Babies, pregnancies, birthdays, celebrations of milestones or accomplishments, to cheer on someone fighting cancer, holiday gifts, reminding themselves of their own awesome, encouragement, get well, and just for fun. Every single one I fold carefully, write a thank you, wrap in tissue, and send on its way.
Every shirt I make is special to me.
But these three shirts were different.