Most people get beat down by life and I think most people work in an environment where their heart maybe doesn't get to shine, or they feel disconnected from their dreams. Basically, I get to be an idealist and I get to keep dreaming and fighting for those dreams. Beyond that, I have had the chance to visit some amazing places and to meet some amazing people around the world.
The most challenging part is the criticism–people saying things that are false and people saying things that are pretty ugly. I've had to learn that not everyone is going to get it, not everyone is going to believe or be a fan. To those who say you can't change things with a t-shirt, I would say we hear countless stories of significant, even life-changing, conversations that are sparked by these t-shirts.
What would I say to someone who thinks that love and hope can't change things? I would apologize for the ways that they've been hurt in this life, because pain is the only thing that could keep someone from seeing the value in love and hope. I imagine it would have to happen over time, in relationship, with trust being built. You would have to show someone love and hope in order for it to be understood.
The greatest reward is seeing people experiencing community for the first time, people realizing that they're not alone and getting the help they need... it's surprising the way that people respond to truth. I didn't invent hope or community or the possibility that every person has a story and every story matters, but it’s been pretty amazing to see people get excited about those ideas.
If I've learned anything along the way, it's that I would do it less alone. Early on, I was not healthy and I ended up hurting people that I claimed to love. I didn't know how to let people in, how to slow down and be honest about my own needs and the things I needed to learn. It's one thing to stand on a stage and talk about community, about loving people and being known by people. It's another thing entirely to actually live those things out.
I think I might move to New York City. My friend Jon says that if you want to see the world change, you should live in a place where the world changes. But more than that, it would be my own pursuit of finding "home" and "community".
I've been around the clothing business and the surf industry (working for Quicksilver and Hurley) and music my whole life. I also grew up with parents who care deeply for other people, so I think all of that got me started down this road.
In 2006 at the age of 26 I met a girl who was struggling with drug addiction, depression and self-injury. She was denied entry into a treatment center and spent the next five days with me and some of my friends. At the end of the five days, she entered treatment and I wrote a story called "To Write Love on Her Arms" and started selling t-shirts as a way to pay for her treatment. I made a MySpace page to give the story a home, and some friends in bands started wearing the shirts. We realized quickly that the story we were telling was one that represented a ton of people, that this was an opportunity to talk about things that people weren't talking about, and that we could also invest in treatment on a bigger scale. Over the last two and half years, we've become a non-profit, responded to roughly 90,000 messages from 40 different countries, and we've had the opportunity to bring a message of hope, help and community to people around the world–everything from rock and roll clubs in England to public schools in Australia to major media (NBC, CNN) in America. Today, we have the largest online audience of any non-profit on MySpace, and one of the most-read blogs as well.