"I know there's bummer stuff everywhere and it's hard not to feel helpless sometimes," Disney Channel alumna Debby Ryan wrote to her 15 million Instagram followers in a caption last March. "But your energy's more valuable spent on the things you can do something about."
The accompanying photo, a smiley selfie, was not unlike those that occupy Ryan's feed. What was notable, though, was the sweatshirt Ryan was wearing in that pixelated rectangle: a dove grey crewneck emblazoned with a rainbow and doodly text that states, "You Are Enough."
While Ryan didn't tag the brand behind the pullover, fans (as fans are wont to do) tracked it down immediately. And today, you can get your own version for $39.95 courtesy of Self-Care Is for Everyone, a Philadelphia-based advocacy organization and apparel retailer that aims to make healing resources, reminders and experiences more accessible for, well, everyone. Right now, that's to the tune of the more than 900,000 people who follow Self-Care Is for Everyone on Instagram alone.
"Ever since that moment, that design has continuously been one of our best-sellers," says co-founder and Chief Brand Officer Sasha Aronzon, who launched Self-Care Is for Everyone as an Instagram project back in 2018. "'You are enough' is definitely a message a lot of people connect with. It's punchy and in-your-face and does make a difference when you wear it out. People want to talk about it."
Every garment Self-Care Is for Everyone sells, from its "Cultivate Kindness" hoodie to "Going to Therapy Is Cool!" tee, is created not by an in-house studio, but a single independent artist. (In the case of Ryan's rainbow graphic, it's illustrator and author Natalie Dormady, who now gets paid a royalty for every item of clothing she designs that the brand sells.) Artists submit their work directly to Self-Care Is for Everyone (while still keeping the rights to it), and the brand provides them with a platform. Because Self-Care Is for Everyone then pays out their artists on a month-to-month basis, Aronzon explains that many illustrators have been able to make a living off of their artwork for the first time. To date, the brand has paid out more than $120,000 to the independent artists and nonprofit organizations with whom it collaborates.
"These clothes are created out of the healing journeys of the artists who make the messages," she says. "They've given a platform to artists to continue creating artwork around their mental health, but they've also empowered individuals to remind themselves of the messages they need to hear."
The lightbulb for Self-Care Is for Everyone flicked on when Aronzon was in graduate school, where she was studying counseling for higher-education. While living in a dorm with undergraduate students as a sort of resident advisor, she became a trusted sounding board for their mental-health-related challenges. But Aronzon was also silently struggling with an eating disorder of her own. Going to therapy while beginning to build out the brand, she says, became an important part of her healing journey.
It didn't take long for Aronzon to stumble upon business partners. On one of her first dates with her now-partner, who has a valuable background in e-commerce businesses, she found they share an interest in mental health. Six months into their relationship, they made a decision: Why not start something together where we can bring their ongoing conversations to others online? (To speak to the psychological aspect of the venture, they later brought on Aronzon's partner's brother, Jonathan Martofel, AMFT, a licensed therapist.)
"I had about a year-and-a-half left to go in grad school before I either found a full-time job or I started this thing and hoped there would be some way of making it a business," she says. Together, the founding trio chose the latter.
Self-Care Is for Everyone invested in Instagram from the very beginning, and it shows: The account has nearly 1 million followers — whom they call "mental-health advocates" — to date, including a range of high-profile activists and advocates like Morgan Harper Nichols, Alessandra Olanow and Raquel Willis. Aronzon still curates the platform's feed, ensuring a healthy cocktail of apparel and resources.
"Instagram, for me, became a place to find the messages that spoke to my healing journey, hoping they resonate with others," she says. "And what I discovered pretty quickly was that there's a community of artists who create work around their own mental-health journeys and around self-care reminders that we need day-to-day."
Because sometimes, Aronzon explains, we need those reminders in our face, right there on Instagram.
Fashion and Beauty Brands Are Using Mental Health to Connect With 'The Anxious Generation'
The Dangerous Side Effect of Digital Wellness
Leimert Park Threads Pays Homage to Black Communities, From South Central L.A. to HBCUs
When the term "self-care" first slid into the general zeitgeist several years ago, it didn't take long for capitalist consumerism to co-opt its language in a way that blatantly, and harmfully, nudged out inclusivity and accessibility.
"Some people still say that self-care is selfish," says Aronzon. "But that's just so far from the truth because when we do take care of ourselves, we're able to give so much more to others. And some people have the understanding that self-care is getting your nails or hair done, and perhaps that's part of someone's self-care. But things like taking deep breaths, going on a walk, drinking enough water, the basic necessities we need to keep our mental health in check — those were not really talked about as much."
Self-Care Is for Everyone strives to be that safe, cozy space where all are welcome to saddle up and have those big conversations, either collectively or on a personal level. As the business has grown, so too has its stake in its community, including responding to each and every DM with individualized voice notes.
"When folks reach out to us, we want them to know there's a person behind the brand," she adds. "We want this to be a community where people feel like they're a part of something. And when they do put on their sweatshirt, T-shirt or whatever reminder they connect with, they're a part of a larger message."
Conscious, sustainable and ethical manufacturing is also a part of that message: Can we be as kind to our home and neighbors as we are to ourselves?
The brand, which operates on a made-to-order model, sources its garments from Bella+Canvas, a premium wholesale apparel retailer that produces all of its products in California. It then prints each piece in-house using direct-to-garment printers at its warehouse, which sits no more than 15 minutes from Aronzon's home. All workers are paid a living wage.
That also extends outside of its supply chain and into the nonprofit sector. The business already donates 10% of all profits to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, but it has also linked up with no shortage of 501(c)(3) partners: the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Eating Disorders Association and most recently, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, where, for this September, Self-Care Is for Everyone worked with four nonprofits and commissioned an artist to create a design for each. All proceeds from this limited-edition collection go back to the respective organizations. And in June, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, the brand donated $10,000 to 10 Black therapists who could then use these funds to subsidize therapy sessions for their Black patients.
"Therapy not only has a stigma, but also a financial burden," says Aronzon. "And if you can't afford it, you're out of luck. Making therapy more accessible is something we want to accomplish in our mission. We hope to continue partnering with these nonprofits and continue donating to therapists directly so that they can support their clients better."
Apparel has helped to put the brand on the map, but clothing was just a particularly successful jumping-off point. The next phase of the business will be resource-based, with Aronzon and team planning to soon offer Self-Care Is for Everyone-branded workbooks and online courses, and eventually, pending the state of the world, launching in-person healing retreats. But its clothing isn't going away.
"We just want to empower individuals to own their story, to not feel shame around what they've gone through," she says. "A lot of individuals talk about their experience of putting on one of our reminders and how empowering it feels."
Aronzon describes the T-shirt she's currently wearing. It spells out "Grow Through What You Go Through," the text for which winds above an illustration of a wild flower pot. Over on the tee's product page, a comment section showcases nearly 80 smiling selfies of happy customers in the shirt. "When I put it on, I'm reminded to be kind to myself today," a customer, Debbie, wrote in her five-star review.
"If I'm going through a challenging moment, the shirt is always a good reminder that I'm going to grow through all of this," says Aronzon. "The best way to do it is to do what you need to do to take care of yourself, reach out if you need help and continue sharing these messages online — because there's never enough reminders."