I had the pleasure of interviewing Eli Brown, founder of Shine The Light On (STLO). STLO is a clothing company designed to raise awareness for mental health. In the span of a year and a half, STLO is now sold in 1500 hundred stores across North America.
Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?
The story of Eli begins in Toronto, in a loving and nurturing home. He is a good student, well liked, socially connected, and a gifted tennis player. All doors seemed wide open for Eli Brown as he developed into a young man. In fact, they did: acceptance onto a top American university’s NCAA tennis team was a signal of his arrival. But as so often the case what we see is not what is.
For Eli Brown, his greatest moment turned into stunning reversal or fortune that itself would become the foundation for another reveral and his greatest success. Eli’s story of sexual abuse, his numbing retreat to alcohol and drugs, suicide attempts reveal the beginnings of this hero.
Now 4 years clean and sober, the founder and CEO of Shine The Light On, a clothing company that creates a platform of social change has become Canada’s hottest clothing brand with it now being sold in 1500 retailers across the North America. As the challenges and threats of teen drug abuse, sexual exploitation, bullying, and suicide grab the headlines Eli Brown is determined to get his message out to audiences all over with the conviction that his message of support gives another person the courage to share their pain, he is creating the type of world he believes is well worth living in — for him and you.
Shine The Light On is now re-directing proceeds to provide affordable housing for youth impacted by mental health and addiction. Shine The Light On has partnered with The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to provide programming and support for all tenants that enter their affordable housing.
Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are a variety of things that make my company stand out as we are a company that provides hope and community to those struggling. All of our designs are done by people impacted by mental health so whenever someone sees our designs online, in store or on a customer, that are able to relate to the designs that they sell. It provides them with a sense of community as they can see that they are not alone in their struggles.
All of our clothing is produced locally and produced by people who have been impacted by mental health. We have a total of 130 people through the production l ine and it has always been important to us to employee people who have been impacted by mental health.
Our company is also a BCORP company which means we follow all governmental rules and regulations regarding social enterprises and environmental laws.
We also donate a percentage of proceeds to non-profit organizations across the world that help youth who struggle with mental health. STLO is now redirecting those proceeds to provide affordable housing for youth impacted by mental health.
Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Currently STLO is working on a variety of exciting projects. The first is our affordable housing plan. We are now redirecting profits from clothing sales to build and invest in existing real estate developments to provide affordable housing for people impacted by mental health and addiction. We have partnered with a variety of non-profit organizations to help our tenants achieve success by providing therapy, counselling, job training, job placement and financial management.
The other project we are launching in September is a cross country public speaking tour. We are traveling for seven months in Adeles previous tour bus to speak to youth in schools about mental health. Our mission is to inspire youth across the country to share their stories, to motivate youth, and to provide hope to those who are struggling.
Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
The four agreements was a book I read that made an everlasting impact on my life. I was given this book on the first couple days of my treatment and it set the foundation for my future success. It taught me four lessons, be impeccable with my work, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do my best.
Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1.) Our greatest challenges in life can become our greatest successes.
For me this is my greatest lesson learned. When i was young i went through sexual abuse. It led me down a pat of drug and alcohol addiction as well as a tough battle with depression. For many years I felt like a victim, that life was unfair and that the world was out t get me. As time went on and I went through recovery I started to realize that the difficult times in my life taught me great skills. How to be resilient, how to persevere over difficult times and how to overcome obstacles in life. Entrepreneurship is about overcoming problems and finding new solutions and the struggles I had when I was younger taught me skills to become a great entrepreneur.
2) Trust my vision:
This is something i tell myself every morning. As I have gone and continue to go through my entrepreneurship journey I am constantly getting feedback and new ideas from the people around me. Some of them are great ideas and some are ideas that pull me away from my vision. At the beginning of my business I listened too much to the people around me and i found myself going in a hundred different directions. I would look back at what I accomplished and I found that I did not do as much as I thought. When I started to just focus on my vision and get my product out there, I started to see massive success. I saw that my product was getting in a hundred stores each month and that sales were picking up.
3) Organic Growth / Local growth:
I was taught this lesson when i expanded to the west coast too soon. I got great feedback from stores out west and I expanded too quickly. At the time we didn’t have our production in order and there were a lot of issues when we started to ship to stores. I learned that I had to keep my business local, perfect my model and when it was ready, duplicate it in other parts of North America.
4) Plan ahead but be prepared for opportunity when it presents itself:
I always like to plan ahead and be prepared for all that I have set my mind to but I always see new opportunities presenting itself. It is important for me to stay focused on my vision but to always be open minded when opportunity presents itself. When I first started STLO I never envisioned building affordable housing, but the opportunity presented itself and I had to jump on it!
5) Do your homework / research:
I learned this lesson right at the beginning! The first line I cam out with was not a success. It was a product that people did not want. After I saw that my first line was not succeeding, I went out and did massive amounts of research. I went to shopping malls and would go into every store to talk to customers and store managers. I would ask them; what is your best seller, why is it your best seller, what is your most popular fabric, what is your most popular colour etc…I did that for weeks until I gathered enough information to create my second line. From that point forwards, all decisions we make are based off of facts and previous sales data rather than personal opinion.
Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :)
I would love to have a private breakfast with Steven Tyler. He is one of my heroes. Steven is someone that I look up to as he is also someone is in recovery. He works in an atmosphere that would make it more challenging to stay sober but he is always able to persevere over it. He is also someone who is driven by passion. His recent work to protect artists from streaming websites and record labels is something that I really admire in him. Steven also does a lot of philanthropy which shows his commitment to help change the world.
— Published on June 21, 2018