This is a photo that my partner and I took in San Antonio, Texas. If you keep reading, you'll find out what the photo is all about.
Every shirt at Strong Athletic has an origin story.
A shirt I made this year has the word "outspoken" printed in bold ink, centred on the chest. The letters "OUT" are capitalized and separated from the "Spoken" part of the word, giving it various meanings.
I made this shirt for a very specific reason: I wanted to make a new shirt for the LGBTQIA community that I am part of. Over the years I have become more aware that being visually "out" is both a human right and a privilege. Like many people in my community, I have a coming out story. I remember taking my "best friend" to my mom's house. I remember finally telling my mom that my new bestie was indeed my girlfriend. I remember the courage that it took and the fear of rejection that I was nervous about. Although my mom is openly supportive of people who are gay, I still worried that I'd upset her. I was lucky in that my mom told me it was great that I was gay and it's great if I'm straight, that it didn't matter, she loved me no matter what. Not everyone has this type of coming out experience.
I have mixed feelings about "coming out". Currently I hope that the coming out process becomes a thing of the past because in the future no one will need to fess-up to this massive "secret" about who they are. I hope that they can simply just be and it doesn't need to be a big deal. This hope of mine is going to take time, but considering how far the LGBTQIA community has come, I know it is possible.
Strong Athletic has taken on a life of its own and the same is true for most of our shirts.
Initially I focused on the "out" in the word outspoken, but most people didn't see the word as separate, but saw the word as a whole. This brings me to the shirts additional meanings and interpretations. The shirt has three designs.
The first design is the one that people seem to identify with and understand the most. It has white letters that stand out boldly on the black fabric.
Strong Athletic's Reason for Making this Shirt: this shirt is for all the people in the world who speak-up and like to be heard. They will call people out and they do not feel ashamed or embarrassed by doing so. These people don't mind conflict, especially if it can lead to dialogue. Sometimes these people are not too concerned about changing someone's mind, as long as they can speak their own mind.
Strong Athletic Supporter's Reason for Wearing this Shirt: Most people who buy this get it either for themselves or for a friend. We often hear about how there's a certain person that always says what they think or who always speaks up. They like to wear this shirt with pride.
The second one, people usually choose because they like the pink and grey. Sometimes they comment that the silver doesn't really stand out and they usually are asking, "why" that is.
Strong Athletic's Reason for Making this Shirt: There are people who throttle the line of speaking-up, but also keeping their opinions to their self. These people will speak their mind when they know they are in a safe space, but they don't always do so for fear of offending others or having their ideas or thoughts aggressively shot down. They do however act the way that they think humans should act.
Strong Athletic Supporter's Reason for Wearing this Shirt: People love the design of this tank for many reasons. One, it's perfect for anyone who's on #teamcroptop. Two, it's in the pink and grey colors of our beloved WFTDA. Three, the silver sinks into the tank. Sometimes you can see the silver, and sometimes it fades into the shirt. It stands out great in photos. The people who buy this usually identify with the people who like the first tank or the third one you're about to read about.
The third one, is my personal favorite: black on black. This one is the most misunderstood because in some lighting you cannot see the words at all.
Strong Athletic's Reason for Making this Shirt: There are people who speak-up but not necessarily with words, but through doing. They wouldn't do anything that they don't believe in. They teach the world how to act through their actions, rather than their speech. This shirt is a tribute to people leading the way to modify "call-out" culture. They understand that words, when they are offensive to others, will not lead to change, but to a stalemate.
Strong Athletic Supporter's Reason for Wearing this Shirt: This shirt, with it's black ink on black fabric is bold. It's straight-forward. The people who wear this shirt buy it because they are outspoken, however they don't need to tell others, they just are. People look to them to see what move they are going to make or how they're going to vote or weigh-in because they trust them.
Now, to get to the photo at the top of the post. In the photo you see me, Nadia Kean, the owner of Strong Athletic, and my wife Carla Smith. You might have thought that the man in the background was simply an older-nice gentleman who accidentally photo-bombed our photo. But you'd be wrong. That man was in the photo because we wanted him to be. He was outside of the Alamo preaching against many things including love. He was a bit hard to understand because of they way that he preached, but the gist of what he was saying was that many things were bad, including homosexuality.
I was on my way up to have a discourse with him (If I was representing one of the OUTSpoken tanks I would have either been the white ink on black one or the grey and pink stripped one) when my wife grabbed my hand, dropped to a knee and fake proposed to me. (If she had been representing one of the tanks she would have been the black ink on black fabric one).
In that moment we wanted the same thing and we had two options. We wanted to protest what he was saying and our options came down to how we did it. My wife has a wonderful sense of humor and in that moment we both knew that man was not out there to have meaningful discourse, he was simply out there to scare people and shame them. That was not a moment to change minds or have conversations, that was a moment to simply be happy, be in love and show him what love looks like. And so we did. She proposed. Luckily for her, I said "yes!" We kissed, everyone around clapped and cheered, and that man, kept shouting on, pretending that love was not in front of him. My partner and I were demonstrating both the "out" and the "spoken" in outspoken at that moment, and if felt really fucking great.
So, here's to love. Here's to saying what you think and believe in, regardless of if you say it out loud or if you simply say it through how you act and go about your life. Regardless, let's keep communicating with one another and remember y'all that love is love is love is love is love....
For those that do not know Strong Athletic's origin story, this is it:
My name is Nadia Kean, founder of Strong Athletic. I played a sport called roller derby for 15 years. Sometimes announcers, officials, coaches and other skaters would refer to the adult women who played as “girls” and I considered it to be demeaning. As a form of protest, in 2013, I started calling my teammates a “fine group of strong athletic women”. In December of that year my teammate Cristen Perks was playing around with screen printing and made me a shirt with those 3 words on them. After many, many women told me how much they liked the shirt, I decided that it needed to be made for the masses and got Cristen's blessing. Not everyone identifies as a woman and because of that I eventually branched out and created other lines, such as “Strong Athletic Queer” and “Strong Athletic Human”.
Strong Athletic is based on a belief of mine: words, when used thoughtfully, can lead to change. What better way to communicate with the world about what you believe in than to wear your ideas and thoughts across your chest, acting as a human billboard?