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Nova Scotia clothing company sports a mental health message

The simple message that started Me Before You Clothing is pictured on one of the company’s T-shirts. Rhiann MacDonald, originally from New Glasgow, and partner Vanessa Hamkens created the clothing line earlier this year.
The simple message that started Me Before You Clothing is pictured on one of the company’s T-shirts. Rhiann MacDonald, originally from New Glasgow, and partner Vanessa Hamkens created the clothing line earlier this year.

NEW GLASGOW, N.S. - It’s OK to put yourself first.

That’s the message a clothing company, co-founded by a native of New Glasgow, wants to put out into the world with their designs.

Me Before You Clothing, launched in September 2016, started with one hand-stitched shirt and has now evolved to seven products.

That’s the message a clothing company, co-founded by a native of New Glasgow, wants to put out into the world with their designs.

Me Before You Clothing, launched in September 2016, started with one hand-stitched shirt and has now evolved to seven products.

“It doesn’t feel like work when you’re doing something that makes you happy,” says 24-year-old Rhiann MacDonald, who grew up in New Glasgow and is now studying at Acadia University.

MacDonald, along with co-founder and Dalhousie business student Vanessa Hamkens, began the venture intending to tailor their company towards mental health and contributing to the cause by making a donation to different organizations that help those struggling with mental illness.

It started with a social media post of MacDonald wearing a shirt, hand-stitched by Hamkens, 21, that said “Keep Me High, Love,” prompting comments asking where they could purchase it. Hamkens had been thinking about starting a clothing company for about two years, but didn’t have a design or direction before that point.

The simple, uplifting message on the first shirt was one Hamkens used on her Tumblr blog and was something she created for fun with MacDonald choosing to wear it a lot because she liked it. The positive message fit with the idea of self-love and care they wanted to promote, noting many of their loved ones are affected by mental illness.

“You can get lost in the shuffle caring for friends and family. It’s OK to love yourself and put yourself first,” Hamkens said.

A portion of their sales of their latest product, a crew neck sweater with the word “balance” and a yin-yang symbol embroidered onto it, is planned for Feed Nova Scotia.

Giving back is important to them, the pair said, with MacDonald noting that while food banks aren’t a mental health organization, there’s a correlation. She said there are a lot of families in the province that use food banks and they wanted to help. “Not everybody has the opportunity to put themselves first.”

They want to help more than one organization, and plan to connect each donation with a particular product, the next one particularly close to their hearts.

The next shirt is intended to raise money for the Cayley Fox memorial scholarship at Saint Mary’s University. Fox died last January due to mental illness, and attended some of the same classes with MacDonald, along with being on the same rugby team.

“She was… the most personable person you could ever meet,” MacDonald said about Fox, adding that she was fun, could talk to anybody and always had people laughing.

MacDonald said they had talked about Fox’s mental health, but she wasn’t aware of the degree to which she was struggling.

She stresses to anyone who is struggling to reach out to someone.

“If you don’t have someone to turn to, message us,” she said, adding that there are many online supports as well. “You don’t have to be alone.”

They’re thinking of using a little fox on the pocket with Fox’s rugby number, 12, for the design.

From there, they hope to add some more products, including more variety into the type of clothing options they have, like a hoodie or tank top.

Hamkens is taking an entrepreneurial course this year and will need to write a business plan as part of that, adding that she hopes that will allow them to create a more cohesive image for themselves.

“It’s hard sometimes when we have a lot on our plates to put a lot of energy into this, but I’d like to.”

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