Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old environmentalist from Sweden who has been busy changing the world this past year, is a bona fide young activist hero. She's skillfully leveraged the spotlight to raise awareness of the climate crisis and demand that adults do better by her generation, and in the process she's shown other kids that you're never too small to make a difference.
So it will come as a surprise to exactly no one that a kids' clothing company like ours, which has always been passionate about kids who take a stand, fell head over heels for Greta. Last month we released our "I'm With Greta" shirt to celebrate her as an amazing role model, and to raise money for the Environmental Defense Fund.
We were proud of our design, with its original illustration of Greta in her woolly hat and signature braid and a proclamation of support for her movement. We still are, and we still sell it proudly.
But not everyone was into it. The day we released I'm With Greta, people started popping up on our posts to point out that she wasn't the only young activist speaking out against climate change -- just the only one that has received so much attention. With so many powerful young voices speaking out about the climate crisis, it would be a shame to get hung up on just one, people said. Greta is getting the spotlight to herself because she's blond-haired, blue-eyed, and marketable, they told us. You should put other kids on the shirt. Particularly young activists of color.
This is where it gets hard being an indie t-shirt company trying to change the world one shirt at a time. Because truthfully, we loved the idea of celebrating other, lesser-known young activists. We just also knew a shirt with other faces on it would be a tough sell precisely because they weren't as well known. The very reason it would be awesome to put them on the shirt was the reason people might not buy it, and we might not break even on the design.
We made I'm With Greta because people knew who Greta was and we hoped that maybe, just maybe, they might buy a shirt with her on it instead of, you know, something with a princess kitten or a sports cliche. But if people didn't know these other amazing kids, what could we do? We're a 7-person small business, not a media conglomerate or a PR firm. We can't make people know these young activists.
Spoiler alert: You can see how this story is going to end.
Save Our Planet by Free To Be Kids
Being small, we have to spend our time designing and marketing things that will sell so we can afford to keep doing it. We have no backers or investors.
And yet... the commenters had a point. There were tons of amazing kids doing amazing things to save the planet, all over this continent and across the world, and they deserved to be known. Even though it was not the most genius business move, it just felt right to try to shine the light a little wider than Greta. So we took the risk and did it. We also decided that if we were lucky enough to break even and cover our costs we'd donate all the profits to the Flint Water Fund and the Environmental Defense Fund in celebration and appreciation of these awesome activists' work.
We started with Greta's familiar face on the new shirt to anchor the design and put the other faces into context for people. Then we spent days reading about other young activists, which we had to narrow down to just two more. There are a hundred more kids we would have loved to include in the design, but three was the most we could fit without people having to get way too close to someone's body to make out the faces. :) Without further ado, we present to you Autumn Peltier and Mari Copeny -- two of many amazing young people fighting for change and making a difference.
Autumn Peltier is a 15-year-old clean water activist from Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario. She recently spoke to the UN about protecting our planet. "I've said it once, and I'll say it again: we can't eat money or drink oil," she told them, urging the global community to respect the sacredness and importance of clean water.
Autumn began advocating for clean water when she was just eight years old. She has been nominated for the Children's International Peace Prize three times, and has spoken before the United Nations twice. Watch her speech at the UN Climate Summit in New York here, and don't forget to share it with your kids!
Mari Copeny (Little Miss Flint)
Mari Copeny, aka Little Miss Flint, is a 12-year-old activist, philanthropist, and “future president." When she was just eight and the Flint Water Crisis began, instead of feeling helpless Mari decided to use her voice to help out her community and to fight for the kids there. Mari wrote a letter to then-President Barack Obama asking him to come to her city to learn more about its water crisis. President Obama came, met her, saw the city, and promptly declared a state of emergency to address Flint's lead-poisoned water.
But Mari didn't stop there. She has partnered with a Flint non-profit to raise more than half a million dollars to help kids in her city get clean water. “My generation will fix this mess of a government. Watch us.”
We're thrilled with the end result, and we hope this shirt will serve as a jumping-off point for parents who are excited to show their kids all the young people fighting for a better world. Greta is 16. Autumn is 15. Mari is 12. They're all changing the world for the better... and your kids can, too.