“It was by sharing my story and hearing the stories of others that my future path was illuminated.”
— Eli Brown (STLO Founder)
There is something beautiful about putting your heart on your sleeve, literally, and that’s just what Eli Brown, the founder of Shine the Light On did; he’s created something much bigger than a T-shirt brand, he’s created a movement.
One in three people are impacted by mental health issues, and like many Canadians this is something that is a part of our lives we’d rather leave at home, something we’d rather no talk about. But something happens when you share your story and open up and that’s just what Eli wanted when he started STLO. Eli was so open and honest about his story when we met and his courage, creativity and motivation are so inspiring to me and many others. We all have a story to share and Eli recognized the power that comes out of this connection, the light that shines in the darkness when we open up and see our own stories in others.
Shine the Light On is a Canadian clothing company that was created “out of a desire to connect, share and take the stigma out of mental health.” Based on his own personal experiences, Eli wanted to make a change and create something that would bring people together to share stories and stomp out the stigmas. STLO is a company dedicated to creating community and giving back; a portion of each sale goes toward supporting those who are struggling with mental health.
I am so in love with STLO as a brand, but even more so as a movement. The shirts are so soft, I’ve honestly been living in them (please ignore if you see me wearing them multiple times in photos or real life) and the messages impactful, something I am happy to share and wear! That’s why I’m so thrilled to introduce Eli to all of you today; his story is a powerful one (and like many of us it’s filled with light and dark moments), but his company has become a beckon of light for many and so much good has come out of it.
- There are brands and then there are movements. Shine the Light On is bigger than a brand; it’s making waves and stomping out stigmas. Can you tell us a little bit more about the STLO movement and how it all began?
It begins on the tennis court as a hard working player. My determination led to a scholarship at the University of Michigan and a spot on a top NCAA tennis team. Maintaining my grades and making it to the punishing 6 AM practices were the least of my worries. It was my suppression of the memory of sexual abuse that traumatized me at age 14 that proved to be my greatest challenge. I spent what little free time I had binge drinking myself through my denial of the abuse. This behaviour was, and is, normalized for many young people and so I continued to dismiss the painful and confusing memory that tormented me. I simply lacked the tools necessary to express my despair. After first year university, I found himself extending my lies to his family, as I was unable to acknowledge the abuse. I believed my pain was unwarranted in light of my outward success. In retrospect I realize I was simply uneducated about the symptoms of depression and alcoholism. I transferred to the University of Western for second year. Without the pressures of maintaining scholarship grades and the physical rigours of tennis competitions, I was left with time to devolve further into his self-destructive behaviour. It wasn’t until over a year later, after my second suicide attempt, that I finally reached out. With my parents help, I found himself on a 67-day wilderness program in Utah. It was by sharing my story and hearing the stories of others that my future path was illuminated. Shine The Light On was born out of a desire to subtly help create conversation. STLO t-shirts are designed to bring awareness to social issues impacting youth — and it goes beyond just cleverly-worded slogans.
- Fashion, music, film, art and literature have always been avenues for sending messages and reaching people on a national and global scale. Why did you choose clothing and print as your medium for sending your message and spreading awareness?
I chose clothing and print as my medium for social change as I wanted people to be able to wear their stories. I wanted people to be able to choose the design that fit their personality and their story and be able to share it with the community around them. I also thought that if a person is struggling and they saw someone wearing a STLO shirt or saw it in a store that they would realize that they are not alone, as for many years I felt isolated and disconnected from the world around me.
- Your products are being sold all over Canada and you’ve collaborated with some amazing companies since you started STLO. Congrats on these incredible accomplishments! Can you tell us a bit more about this rapid growth?
The rapid growth has been a combination of the product, messaging and the community we are building. One in three people are impacted by mental health issues, so by sharing my story and my product, it allowed and encouraged others to do the same. People wanted to be part of the movement and I am so happy that they did!
- When you start something like STLO you never really know where it can take you. What were some of the amazing moments on your journey so far and what have been some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way?
The most amazing moment I have had so far is when I went in to one of the stores STLO is in. I over heard a mother talking to a sales rep about my hangtag. On the hangtag is has a quote from me with my signature on the bottom. The customer mentioned that her son’s name was Eli and that he recently died from suicide. This was by far the most impactful moment of STLO as it was a firm reminder of the issue many Canadians face with mental health.
- As an entrepreneur and a philanthropist what kind of advice would you offer to someone looking to start their own company or wanting to make a difference?
My advice would be to shape a company around their own personal story. I see many companies attaching social causes to their brand, but they have very little personal experience with the movement they are trying to create or the cause they are trying to impact. It is important to chose something close to the heart as that is the thing that will keep you motivated 24/7.
- Shine the Light On is really growing and already making a difference! What are your hopes for the future of the company?
My hopes for the future are to incorporate other companies under the STLO umbrella. I want to create a platform of social change as there are many ways in which I want to impact the world.
*Disclosure: Companies featured often sponsor my posts. If I love the company or products I am more than happy to share them with you!