T-shirt designing can help build children’s self-esteem and boost their emotional and mental intelligence, writes Nadia Badarudin
TO most of us, a T-shirt is just a T-shirt. It’s the simplest, most practical and comfortable item to wear. But there are those who regard it as a medium of expression, and use the tee to make a statement, to reflect their personality or to show off their creativity.
And forget not concert-goers and ardent collectors who don’t mind spending a fortune on special edition band T-shirts, or rare, vintage tees to feed their pride of owning something which has a value that only they — and those like them — can appreciate.
For entrepreneurs Mazura Illani Manshoor and Masliza Manshoor, a T-shirt goes beyond its common functions, aesthetic appeal or sentimental, collectible reasons.For the sisters, a T-shirt is a potential agent of change.
TEES FOR KIDS
Illani, 46, and Masliza, 43, are the brains behind CreaTee (www.createekit.com), a homegrown social enterprise that aims to tackle social issues through fashion. It does this by producing DIY T-shirt activity kits for children to encourage them to create wearable art.
The idea of using art and fashion for a good cause is not new. But in this case, the founders’ emphasis is on creating awareness on bullying and helping to fight the issue from its roots.
“CreaTee believes in the philosophy that creative arts build children’s self-esteem, boosts their confidence and also their emotional and mental intelligence, which are the roots of issues like bullying,” says Illani, whose background is in psychology and early childhood education.
She had also worked as an elementary school teacher in Boston upon her graduation from Boston University in the US, while Masliza studied graphic design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in the same city.
Upon returning to Malaysia, the duo set up a graphic design company which projects mainly involve children as talents. Meanwhile, the idea to set up CreaTee was mooted when they were venting on a project in 2015.
“Our upbringing had influenced the way my sister and I perceive and value art,” says Ilani.
“Art helped build my confidence and self-esteem during my growing-up years. Based on my teaching and personal experience, I think art is slowly neglected in today’s world where electronic gadgets and whatnots are a must-have.
“The lack of art appreciation in parents and children, and the lack of thinking skills and creativity that can be inculcated through art had led us to come out with the DIY T-shirt kit for children,” she says.
The CreaTee DIY T-shirt kit comprises of one good quality T-shirt, one specially designed stencil of an animal motif such as a cat or giraffe, two non-toxic fabric markers and a tube of 3D fabric paint. There are also a pair of googly eyes as well as handmade batik and felt pieces.
According to Masliza, it took nine months to select all the components in the kit as they had to ensure that the items are of high quality and, most importantly, safe for children. They also work with The Batik Boutique for the batik pieces (see sidebar).
“The items are meant to encourage children (from 6 years old) to use their imagination in designing their own T-shirts. The kit can help improve their creativity and motor skills. It can also be a medium for parents to spend more time with their children and strengthen the familial bond,” adds Masliza.
“When we went online for the first time in January 2016, we’d hoped to cater to customers from around the globe. Batik became part of our strategy to portray Malaysia’s art and cultural identity to attract customers abroad,” says Masliza.
The sisters’ approach has been fruitful so far, with steady orders locally and overseas. Parents keen on instilling back-to-basics skills in their children would buy the kit. It is also used by pupils at international schools in Malaysia as their after-school activities.
Thanks to CreaTee’s DIY T-shirt kit, Illani and Masliza have gone places for their bullying awareness cause, including conducting art workshops for the urban poor and underprivileged children in the Klang Valley. They also write on the importance of self-esteem and other related topics on their website.
The decision to champion the bullying issue comes from Illani’s childhood. She has Turner syndrome, a chromosomal condition that alters development in females.
“I was under height and underweight due to the condition, which made me an easy target at school,” she says. “Art built my confidence and helped me go through it. I want to help children who are being bullied realise that they too will get over it, through confidence and high self-esteem.”
She stresses that art is a positive and safe outlet for children to deal with negative issues or emotions while growing up. From a teaching perspective, artwork as simple as T-shirt-designing can reveal a child’s learning issues too.
“Art can uncover what you don’t know about yourself or your capabilities. It taps onto something that you thought you wouldn’t do. In other words, it builds self-confidence,” Ilani says.
She adds: “It warms us to the core when we see kids smiling with joy after they have finished designing the T-shirts. We have mothers telling us that their kids wear their creations with confidence almost every day because they are proud of what they had created.
“That is a good thing. When you do art, you are likely to discover the strength you don’t know you have.
They may be naive-looking T-shirts, but seeing the children beaming with pride in making an art of their own is priceless,” says Masliza.
“Little things and simple art like that build their self-esteem and boost their emotional and mental intelligence. And that’s how we will continue to fight for a cause that we believe in and give back to society,” she adds.
FASHION FOR A GOOD CAUSE
The buzzword is social enterprise, where improving society’s well-being is the company’s ultimate mission. Here are some local enterprises which are blazing the trail by integrating fashion with social issues.
1. Little Box By Anis (www.facebook.com/littleboxbyanis)
The brand offers chic and elegant ready-to-wear women’s clothing made by local seamstresses, particularly single mothers and those from low-income families.
2. Good Hijab (www.goodhijab.com)
Offers a selection of muslimah attire such as hijabs and a Good Box that contains various lifestyle products on a subscription basis. Profits go towards funding its social activities, which includes programmes to equip disadvantaged youth with new skills.
3. The Biji-biji Initiative (www.biji-biji.com)
The company produces lifestyle products such as bags and furniture from discarded materials. It offers workshops on sustainable living and works with underprivileged communities.
4. Earth Heir (earthheir.com)
The company produces handcrafted, contemporary fashion pieces and channels 10 per cent of the selling price towards social causes, including raising the living standards of the communities they work with, helping human trafficking victims and supporting reforestation efforts.
5. The Batik Boutique (www.thebatikboutique.com)
The company’s aim is to disrupt the cycle of poverty in Malaysia by training women from low-income backgrounds to produce gifts and fashion accessories made from batik.