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Changing shirts

Can David Nurse change the world by selling clothing with the Shannon Bell-designed "endbullying" logo for charity? He might just have a chance.

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Is it rude or just cynical to say when I first heard about Haligonian David Nurse's business idea to sell anti-bullying t-shirts to raise cash for Kids Help Phone I thought it was a bad idea?

In any case, I did.

Of course I'm no fan of bullying. And I'm all for the good work of the Kids Help Phone, which in Nova Scotia alone answers questions and provides support more than 100,000 times every year.

But the business model Nurse is working---selling hoodies to change the world---has always given me the willies. There's just something sinister about the intersection of commerce and pushing social change---yes, it's how Lance Armstrong, with his yellow silicone Livestrong bracelets, raised millions for cancer research, but it's also how Lance Armstrong raised the profile of, well, Lance Armstrong.

David Nurse? He's not a professional athlete. The trim 35-year-old is a lawyer with the Nova Scotia Department of Justice; just a guy struck with an idea one day last April while driving around in his car who thought, "I have a little extra time to put this together."

By November, Nurse had partnered with Kids Help Phone and launched the web-only store for his new company, Endbullying Apparel.

The site---endbullying.ca---sells t-shirts, tank-tops, hoodies and stickers with the Shannon Bell-designed "endbullying" logo. "A significant portion of what would otherwise be profit---it's about 60 percent---goes to Kids Help Phone." That's $5 a pop for clothing items and $2 for stickers (the stickers are currently sold out). And Nurse gets a little of the money, too.

Nurse comes by his desire to make change for young people honestly---his mother worked in child protection and his dad for the IWK. "I guess I've always been aware of the issues," he says.

He credits a lot of his inspiration to Travis Price and David Shepherd---the guys behind the Central Kings Rural High events that spawned the now province-wide anti-bullying Pink Day, celebrated in September. (There's now one in British Columbia, too.)

Nurse's personal connection to bullying? It's not what you might think.

Nurse isn't the schoolyard bully-made-good. And he wasn't bullied as a kid, either, at least not in a "debilitating" sense. But, he says, "I think everyone has experienced bullying."

Nurse says it happens all the time.

"When I was in law school I saw bullying of university students by university students. You know, people who had chosen to go to this academic institution, to learn.

"I see it as an adult in the workplace," he says, "and as an adult in social situations."

That pervasiveness is a driver in Nurse's vision of making his endbullying t-shirts make money for charity, but also make a change in people's attitudes. (The short version: that "mutual respect is mandatory.")

Nurse has an interesting idea about why bullying happens as much as it does and in so many social arenas.

"Bullying," he says, "is a kind of form of aggression that's not associated with any particular sort of other kind of discrimination or attack."

Huh?

"We've done a lot of education around homophobia and racism. It's not acceptable to target people on those grounds. But we still have a lot of people who are targeted for some perception of difference or isolation."

He's got a point.

Nurse is sponsoring an anti-bullying booth at a school fair in Yellowknife this week ("which pretty much wipes out any profit," he chuckles) and trying to plan a day-long event at a local coffee shop where a portion of profits goes to Kids Help Phone. He's also looking to introduce new designs to the Endbullying Apparel lineup and, significantly, he's just told Kids Help Phone the first chunk of money from his project is on the way.

And what about cynics who don't think you can change the world selling t-shirts?

Nurse is unrepentant. "Finding a way for people to easily and publicly support the movement in their day-to-day life," he says, "really helps."

Buying and wearing an endbullying t-shirt, Nurse says, can be a concrete way of helping reach an "intangible goal," like changing people's minds about what behaviour is kosher in the classroom and schoolyard, but also in the bar and by the watercooler.

And buying products to advance awareness around social change doesn't just apply to bullying. It "was the beauty of the Livestrong bracelet," too, Nurse says.

Hmm. Turns out selling t-shirts may be a way to actually change the world after all.

Can product placement save the world? Tell Lezlie Lowe what you think, at lezliel@thecoast.ca.

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