Profoundly Positive: Leveraging everyday gear to improve attitudes

"With the right words you can change the world."

This sentiment crafted by E.B. White in the epic tale of a barnyard filled with animals including a runt pig saved from the slaughter is true even today.

Simple, yet powerful messages stare at us nearly 24 hours a day from the chests and backs of strangers and the rear bumpers and wrists of others we pass during our daily activities.

Several local entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations have realized that mindsets can be shifted by using standard, every day gear such as T-shirts, wristbands, bumper stickers and car magnets, all designed to reinforce positive social messages.

One would be hard pressed to find a Massachusetts resident unfamiliar with Jake, the ever-smiling front man of Life is Good. The entire mantra of the company is to enjoy the good moments in life in order to balance road bumps ultimately experienced along the way.  

Emotional Armor founder Jennifer Dalton Hoffman started a journey towards health and healing by designing a unique clothing line promoting messages of kindness, self confidence and acceptance. The Newburyport-based company’s line of T-shirts were designed to motivate, inspire and celebrate the good inherent in all of us, while at the same time, provide positive reinforcement of each individual message such as ‘take the high road’ and ‘i can do it.’

While the motivation for starting companies that share positive messages may be different, families touched by the lives of individuals with special needs too have added their own messages to the societal pie—many of which are equally as inspirational, catchy and absolutely fashionable.

A Positive Perspective, founded by two sisters from Uxbridge, Mass., today merchandise a web site filled with tote bags, ceramic and travel mugs, stationary, T-shirts and more showcasing unique designs encouraging acceptance and inclusion of individuals with Down syndrome. And, they are not alone. 

Just in time for summer, the Autism Alliance of MetroWest, Inc. based in Natick, Mass. has designed an exclusive beach towel promoting autism awareness. Retailing for $24.99 plus $5.00 shipping and handling, anyone interested in shedding light on another important cause while sun tanning, swimming on playing at the beach or pool can do so in style.

Friends Kristin Pidgeon and Coleen Popp determined that their children with special needs have many unique talents and gifts to give to the world, so why not promote this fact in a subtle, but positive manner? Three years ago, the two mothers of three children each founded 321 DSP (Three-Twenty-One Down Street Press), to further the work done by previous generations of parents who advocated against institutionalizing individuals with mental disabilities.

Pidgeon said, “Thirty years ago, parents took aggressive steps to advocate for their children not to be institutionalized, and instead be given the same educational resources and opportunities as typical children. Therefore, if our generation doesn’t continue the positive momentum generated, the result will be steps backwards.”

To insure a back slide is avoided, Pidgeon and Popp held several brainstorming meetings during which they concocted a series of positive messages including ‘What’s an extra chromosome between friends?’ and ‘Downright spectacular’ which today grace T-shirts and posters. 

The images selected by Pidgeon and Popp to coincide with their inspirational messages were chosen specifically to showcase how similar individuals with Down syndrome are to everyone else in that they too can make friends, play sports and be contributors to society just as their peers.

“Our shirts and the messages and images on them can easily become a conversation starter,” said Pidgeon. “When my daughter wears one of our shirts to school, her classmates may ask about Down syndrome or ask the teacher to explain. These inquiries promote a discussion about Down syndrome which may never have otherwise occurred.”  

The two friends also put their heads together to design a icon to stimulate immediate recognition for their cause. The result was a company-designed ribbon in the shape of the DNA double helix symbolizing the genetic difference shared by individuals with Down syndrome. The popular design, which mirrors the uniqueness of the colorful puzzle created for Autism Awareness magnets, is available as a lapel pin, on baseball caps, and on key chains to increase awareness, support inclusion and pave a brighter future for all people with Down syndrome.

“We believe that positive messages will benefit our children just by being out there,” said Pidgeon “Already, we’ve seen that it’s not just people touched by Down syndrome that enjoy our merchandise. Anyone can wear a shirt with a positive message simply to reinforce something beneficial rather than harmful.”

So, the next time you are in the market for a unique T-shirt, beach towel, coffee mug or baseball cap, why not grab something positive? As E.B. White noted, the right words can change the world.


By Wendy Bulawa
GateHouse News Service
June, 2006