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“I was seeing kids come to school wearing shirts with negative sayings, like, ‘I’m a spoiled brat,’” says former first-grade teacher Meri Zeiff. “I viewed that as jaded adults talking,” and dressing their offspring accordingly. “Why aren’t there shirts for kids in a kid’s voice?” she wondered.

Zeiff was determined to foster a more positive self-image for school children. She shared her concern often enough that her mother finally told her to stop talking and instead do something. Mom offered Zeiff the seed money, and the teacher took action. She asked her pupils what they wanted to say; they came up with 100 ideas, “which we narrowed to 20, then made some shirts and sold all of them immediately,” she says.

Slogans include Kindergarten Rocks! Save the Whales! Blastoff! Go Green! I Love My Teacher, I’m An Artist, and her most recent, Be Buddies Not Bullies.

Zeiff began holding T-shirt parties, making and selling cotton tanks, short and long sleeves tees and hoodies. Success prompted Zeiff to expand — with a push from a friend, who propelled her toward the mecca of cool: Kitson. “I was too shy to go in, but my boyfriend literally pushed me through the door. I didn’t talk to the owner but instead sent a line sheet but no sample. That week, they called with an order. We sold out in a few weeks, and from there …. ”

Zeiff was eventually selling in 60 retail stores nationwide, but she wanted more from her burgeoning company. “I realized there was a need for kid-designed shirts in schools and camps and nonprofits everywhere.” That prompted the business’ fund-raising focus. “Kids submit ideas for the slogan and accompanying design,” she says. Then each votes on their favorite, and the winning design is turned into a great tee and made available for purchase as a fund-raising tool.” Zeiff donates a percentage of the sales.

The appeal of a shirt with a positive message is clear to any parent. But what about the kids? “They find it so cool that something they’ve created actually goes on something they see in stores and on other kids in their communities,” says Zeiff. “That fills them with a sense of pride and confidence. That feeling is exactly what I’d hoped to give kids.”

 
verymeri@verymeri.com.