Tee Talent is a social enterprise with a mission to give those who face disabilities the opportunity to work. Tee Talent carries t-shirts that motivate, empower and inspire. Business developer Carlos Martins and motivational speaker Shayne Smith joined forces to launch the brand after being inspired by their own experiences and struggles. Co-founder Carlos shares with us how overcame obstacles and started t-shirt business.
What inspired you to start a t-shirt business?
The company started officially in November of 2015. I was running the company by myself and was the result of an experience I had as a Job Developer helping individuals with disabilities to find employment. My experience was very frustrating, because the companies I was approaching were not open to the idea of having individuals with disabilities working for them as I was expecting. So, I decided to create a company that would be composed mainly by individuals with disabilities. It could be any kind of company. I decided to create a clothing brand because it was easier to set up the business. Very expensive to promote though. In March 2016, I was looking for a Canadian partner to bring the local experience, connections and culture into Tee Talent, and I was introduced to Shayne by one of the suppliers I was trying to work with. In April 2016 Shayne became part of the company and I kind of re-launched the company.
How did you and Shayne meet?
I was having a meeting with a local printing shop and I shared my ideas with them. They mentioned that Shayne was producing some t-shirts with them for his business and that he was also a person with a disability. Shayne is a motivational speaker. I checked some videos from Shayne and contacted him immediately. We set up a meeting, I explained about the concept of the company and brought some t-shirts. He said, “I’M IN!” Since then we’ve been working together, trying to promote our business.
What key things were you able to apply from your previous/existing jobs to Tee Talent?
I used to work as an International Marketing Specialist back in Brazil and here in Toronto as a Job Developer. In both roles I had to deal with companies making cold calls, setting up meetings and it is pretty much what I’m doing right now; contacting suppliers, brand Ambassadors, the media, like T-Shirt Magazine, etc.
What was it like adjusting to life after the Shark attack?
I was 15 years old. It was in 1994 and a terrible experience. I had to start using a prosthetic leg, but nowadays it is like I’m wearing my shoes. We get used to it.
What sets Tee Talent apart from businesses that give back a portion of their sales to people with disabilities?
This model is exploding. But, I prefer to give back to the community myself and not donating to charity. I think one of the first companies to do that was TOMS Shoes and I love their concept because they are really involved with their cause. For me, companies that just transfer money to a charity but are not involved deeply with the social problem are just a fraud, trying to have a social appeal to make money. There is no problem in making money, but I believe in companies that are truly experiencing the problem or have a passion to solve a specific problem. This is Tee Talent. We are passionate about what we are doing, we truly believe that we will be successful and we are involved directly with the social problem that we want to solve. Other special aspect from Tee Talent is that Shayne and myself are individuals with disabilities trying to help other individuals with disabilities. Usually what you will find is someone that is not experiencing the problem, but is sympathetic and there is value on that, but we are trying to solve our own problems here. We like the idea that we are the owners of our future.
What are the most common misconceptions that people have about those with disabilities when it comes to work?
That’s a very good question. The disable community is one of the largest minorities in the planet. Many are surviving by receiving welfare from the Government, which is bad for the community and economy. The companies have an important role to play. They can hire someone with a disability, very productive and at the same time help him/her to have an income and raise self-esteem. There is a social impact there and you don’t need to be a not-for-profit to do that. The problem is most companies think that someone with a disability needs to be in a wheelchair and have mobility issues. There are so many different disabilities out there and if the company focuses on the TALENT of the person other than the disability, I’m sure that everything would be possible.
Where do you receive most of your support from?
From unknown people that love the concept. When we are able to share our story. The feedback is impressive. People can really see very clear how passionate we are and how effective this project can be. We hope that we can reach a broader audience in the near future, so our story will spread quickly.
As a new brand, what marketing strategies are you finding to be the most effective in getting the word out and attracting customers?
We didn’t invest in the company the way we should. We don’t have the money. Shayne, for example, lives with the money provided by government through the Disability Program. So we are basically getting in touch with some YouTubers/Instagramers and introducing our concept. They are not massive, but have a good engagement. We send t-shirts to them and they share on their social media. We have Robyn from Australia. She has cerebral Palsy. We have Matt Scott from the US Wheelchair Basketball Team and now we have Cherry from Vancouver.
What are three words/phrases you follow that drive your business?
I’m a big fan of Casey Neistat and his story as an entrepreneur is my inspiration.
My first phrase would be DO MORE. If every business could consider the social aspect of their activity I think we would have a healthier society.
I would mention also Shayne’s favorite: NO LIMIT. He is the type of guy that don’t like to consider anything impossible.
And the last, but not least, is BE YOURSELF, because sometimes when you have a disability you become embarrassed about your condition, like I was not too long ago. And when you accept yourself, you can even take advantage of it, like we are doing right now with Tee Talent, turning something negative in something positive for ourselves.
Do you have any special projects coming up this year?
We are working on our printing shop now. We are trying to get in touch with some suppliers to see if they could become our sponsors. Ryonet already answered and said that they will donate some material for us, like inks, screen etc, to startup, which is awesome. But we still need the machinery. We believe that with our own printing shop we will be able to print our own t-shirts and also offer this service to any small/medium company that wants t-shirts printed.
Photography: Arizona Lanceleve.
Where do you see Tee Talent 5 years from today?
We would love to have our t-shirts being sold in some big retail shops and able to be sponsors of athletes, especially athletes with disabilities.
Want to learn more about Tee Talent and their mission?