If you wear Nike shorts, you're a jock. Timberland boots? You must be quite outdoorsy. In our culture, brands perpetuate stereotypes, shape friend groups and exclude those who don't wear the logos of "cool" companies. However, one start-up has found a way to brand tolerance and inclusion instead.
This past May, Bessie Bianco '08 and Frankie Longo '08 founded a company called Nobul Apparel, whose mission is focused on "raising awareness and organizing plans of action to eliminate the long-lasting effects of bullying and trauma," according to its website.
The name is a play on the phrase "no bullying" and the word "noble."
Bianco stressed that while Nobul Apparel is an anti-bullying initiative, it is not an anti-bully initiative.
"However traumatic it was for someone to be bullied, the bully feels that same intensity. It stays with the bully as well," she said.
When Bianco and Longo met in a new athlete assembly as first-year students, they did not know they would go on to launch an anti-bullying campaign, even as bullying affected them in their childhood.
Neither Bianco nor Longo were bullied extensively when they were younger, though Longo said that since he moved around a lot, there were "instances" where he was teased as the "new kid."
The effects of bullying, however, were pervasive. Longo and Bianco both went to high schools where bullying was and continues to be a problem.
Longo attended Concord-Carlisle High School in Concord, Mass. While there, multiple students committed suicide. "I had friends who bullied," he said. "A lot of people and I had friends who were bullied. There were certain situations where things got out of hand and I said something, and there were situations where I didn't say something."
The school is currently in the midst of a lawsuit from a student who was repeatedly bullied and who claims the school did not properly handle the situation.
Bianco stated that, while she was never bullied, the issue is incredibly important to her as she also grew up in a school district that was a problem area for bullying. "My parents have always taught me 'kill everyone with kindness because you don't know what's going on in their life,'" Bianco said.
Bianco and Longo were both high jumpers on the University's track and field team and have been involved in athletics throughout their entire lives.
These experiences have instilled in them a duty to help others.
"There's the idea of the jocks being cool and being mean to anyone else," said Longo. "My idea and what I've done my whole life is I use that position to bridge the gap and be a role model."
As Brandeis students, the pair did not notice nearly as much bullying or hazing as they noticed in high school. "I feel like on [the Brandeis] campus there is this overall welcoming to different kinds of people. I always felt really at home and that everyone here was looking to create friendships. ... Brandeis is really special in that sense," Bianco said.
Bianco and Longo knew that something needed to be done to combat the bullying. "I first got the idea to start with hats because I felt like it was a good gateway into the apparel industry. ... I liked the hats a lot because any kid can pick up a hat and wear it," Bianco said. The hats are snapback hats and one size fits all. Hats currently sell for 25 dollars each and come in a variety of colors and patterns.
Both Bianco and Longo chose which styles they wanted to sell. The bold lettering on the front of each hat was selected, according to Bianco, because "it's very blunt and sparks a conversation."
The response to the campaign has certainly gotten people talking. "It's amazing to me how many people are so deeply interested in [this issue]," Longo said. "I've met all different kinds of people-wealthy people, bar owners, who will come up to me and tell me their whole life story about how they were bullied ... how it changed their entire [lives]."
The duo is currently deciding which organization to which they will donate a portion of their funds. Candidates include Project Seatbelt of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Stomp Out Bullying, a national anti-cyber-bullying organization that works to end bullying between kids and teens through education and peer mentoring.
Bianco and Longo hope to expand their brand into other kinds of apparel such as T-shirts. They are currently in a partnership with the band Eight Feet Tall and hope to sponsor more concerts going forward.
It's hard to know whether Nobul will make an impact on a national scale, but Bianco and Longo are already starting to see a shift in perspective from community members in their hometowns.
"I have a friend who used to bully other people and he's starting to see the whole thing differently," Longo said.