Summer is in full swing, and two T-shirt companies are helping Canadians wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Local T-shirt company Free Leaf was created by a pair of Winnipeg teens, Eric Steinke, 15, and Ian Willison, 16. Both are in Grade 10 at St. Paul’s High School and started Free Leaf after learning about the deforestation of the rainforest in their geography class.
"As humans we have the right to save that rainforest, so we decided to spread awareness and help with that," said Willison. Eric and Ian said they were inspired to follow through with their plan after joining their school’s entrepreneurship club.
Ian said they decided to sell T-shirts and hoodies because "As teens, we figured it would be the best way to get the word around."
The company teamed up with Rainforest Trust, which preserves a quarter-acre of rainforest with every purchase from Free Leaf. Since the company’s launch May 24, 2016, they’ve already preserved approximately eight acres of rainforest and are about to preserve three more. Their goal is to preserve 100 acres in 2016.
Free Leaf sweaters, T-shirts, hats and hoodies feature the company logo and small illustrations of nature. "We wanted to make them nature colours and not bold," said Ian. "Colours you could find in the rainforest. We also wanted it to go off of our main logo so when people see that, they immediately think of Free Leaf, and it creates more awareness."
A company in Toronto is also using T-shirts to create awareness, but for a different cause. Tee Talent sells inspirational T-shirts with the goal of making a social impact for people with disabilities. One of the founders, Carlos Fred Martins, lost his left foot in a shark attack in Brazil in 1994 and moved to Canada in 2014.
Martins and co-founder Shayne Smith, a motivational speaker from Toronto, launched Tee Talent with the goal of empowering and employing those with disabilities. Martins stressed Tee Talent is not about their products or the inspirational designs.
"We want to provide employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities," he said. "We are a profit company. We don’t want to be a non-profit company because then people will look at us and try to help us because they feel sorry for us. We don’t want that."
Alex Lytwyn, a man with cerebral palsy, is the communications manager at Tee Talent and lives in Winnipegosis.
Martins worked as a job developer for a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities find employment. "I was expecting the (Canadian) community to be more open-minded, but I was wrong," he said. "There are some companies that are very open to the idea of someone with disabilities working for them... but I feel like some companies are afraid of hiring people with disabilities."
Martins described a particular experience he had while trying to find a job for one of his clients. A company was looking for a receptionist, and Martins had a client in mind for the position. "After going back and forth with their HR management, they said, ‘Unfortunately, we cannot hire your client because we have stairs, and we can’t accommodate someone in a wheelchair,’" said Martins.
"The interesting thing is I didn’t say what disability. My client didn’t have mobility issues, it was just an assumption," he said. "I knew what the disability was, and I knew my client was able to perform in that specific role, but because of a lack of information they had this misconception about individuals with disabilities."
"These people can be productive, they can be working. That’s what we’re trying to do here," he said.
For more information about Free Leaf and Tee Talent, go to www.freeleafco.com and www.teetalent.com.
Updated on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at 7:37 AM CDT: Adds photo