My Sister Brings Social Consciousness to the Message Tee

Message tees continue to be a popular way to make a statement. But instead of chic puns—such as “Célfie,” “C’est la Vie,” or “Kale”—a new Minneapolis brand is using the trend to make a socially conscious statement. My Sister’s mission: to bring awareness to the worldwide plight of sex and human trafficking.

Despite the dark subject matter, My Sister’s t-shirts and tank tops offer an optimistic outlook, bearing sassy phrases that encourage feminist empowerment such as “you aren’t the boss of me,” “I object—I’m not an object,” and “make her-story.” Co-founder Mandy Multerer says the goal of My Sister’s product line, which also includes lip balm, jewelry, and metallic temporary tattoos, is to “have a message that’s fun, empowering, and gets a conversation started.”

Printed on super-soft cotton in on-trend silhouettes (a boyfriend tank, a fitted cropped tee, a square-cut oversized tee) in eco-friendly ink, the shirts are manufactured in non-sweatshop, fair-trade factories. Ensuring their products are ethically made is vital to the brand, which donates six percent of every purchase to fund programs with nonprofits who are working to fight sex trafficking, such as local organization Minnesota Girls Are Not for Sale and Maiti Nepal, Nepal’s biggest anti-trafficking nonprofit. My Sister also works with Nepali craftswomen to create its jewelry line and has an internship program intended to help local women exit the sex trade by gaining business skills.

The company launches its e-commerce site today, and is has pop-up shops planned for the Northern Spark arts festival (June 13), Rock the Garden at the Walker Art Center (June 20 and 21), and MartinPatrick3 in July. Multerer says the company plans to focus on growing its business in Minnesota through 2015, and hopes to begin bringing pop-ups and additional fundraising efforts to cities including Chicago and New York by next year.

On June 4, the company hosts a launch party at Aria with an evening of storytelling and a fashion show produced by Sarah Edwards (of I Am Mpls!, I Am Kindness, and I Am Fabulous!). (While the event is free, donations are encouraged.)

I talked to Multerer to find out more about the company’s origins, goals, and plans.

Q: How did the idea for My Sister come about?

A: Human trafficking is the second largest crime in the world after drug trafficking. While drug trafficking has a ton of law enforcement behind it, there isn’t a tough policy in place to prevent human trafficking. We toyed with being a nonprofit, and there are already so many nonprofits out there that are doing a great job, we wanted to come into the world with a product people would buy. Our goal is to raise awareness [of sex trafficking] in a more trendy and inspiring way.

Q: What are some specific ways My Sister helps in the fight against sex trafficking?

A: With every sale we have, six percent of it goes to nonprofits including Minnesota Girls Are Not for Sale and Maiti, the largest anti trafficking organization in Nepal. Throughout all our events we’re doing, we’re fundraising for those nonprofits. At Rock the Garden, we’ll be applying metallic tattoos, and half of the profits from their sales will be donated. Our launch party will be a huge fundraiser. The other way we’re trying to make an impact is to offer survivors internships, because often they come with criminal backgrounds and they don’t have a lot of business experience so it can be very hard for them to get a job. We want to offer opportunities for survivors to get that job training and experience. We’re finding survivors want to help other women in the situation. Plus our jewelry is made in Nepal by survivors of human trafficking.

Q: Why did you choose to use clothing and accessories as a way to fight sex trafficking and getting your message out there?

A: It’s a good way to spread a message, with a graphic tee. It’s a talking point. I was wearing one of the shirts yesterday, and someone said they loved my shirt and it got a conversation going. That’s what we want to do—we don’t want to have a scary message, we want to have a message that’s fun and empowering that gets a conversation started.

Q: My Sister is also sweatshop-free and uses eco-friendly processes. Why was this important to My Sister?

A: What we’re trying to do it talk about trafficking as a whole. Our focus is on sex trafficking but that’s part of human trafficking. When someone buys fast fashion, it’s very likely it may be coming from a sweatshop, so we wanted to be very careful about that and not contributing to that trafficking factor. That is a huge initiative for us, to make sure the supply chains are fair trade and other human beings aren’t being exploited in that. As for the eco-friendly part, it just goes into the whole thing of making positive change for the world, so we don’t want to be paper heavy, we aren’t going to give people paper at events, and instead focus on utilizing social media. We’re trying not to contribute to the negative parts when we can.

Q: What can you tell me about My Sister’s launch event on June 4?

A: We want it to have an education component. When people first enter, they’ll see snippets of stories and quotes from survivors. We’re having four actors tell stories about how survivors got involved in a life of trafficking. It will end with a fashion show produced by Sarah Edwards that will have a somewhat avant-garde aspect to it, going from darkness to light, ending with dramatic, colorful pieces mixed with our t-shirts. Most people don’t know a lot about sex trafficking, so we’re trying to give people easy-to-understand facts and figures and telling them stories so they can grasp emotionally what sex trafficking does and give them an inspiring and easy way to make an impact and do something about it. Even if people don’t have money to donate, buying a t-shirt or even talking about it can make a difference.

My Sister launches today at My Sister’s free launch event takes place at 5:30 p.m. June 4 at Aria, 105 1st St. N., Mpls. RSVP on Facebook

Here are photos from My Sister’s social media campaign featuring its t-shirt designs:

all Photos by Colleen Eversman/2nd Truth Photography