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My passion for education grew but big questions remained: ‘global citizenship’, ‘social responsibility’, ‘empathy’: what do these things actually mean, and how can I teach them?

It was in the summer of 2013 after teaching my pre-teen Fashion Design class that I started to think deeply about the world I wanted to leave for the next generation. As a child who grew up in 6 different cities across 5 continents, I was offered a chance to explore and connect with different cultures, food, social issues, and people. This was a true privilege, and I wanted to find a way I could bring the perspectives from these worlds to my students. As a fresh graduate who studied communication design, I started taking on various English teaching jobs to get by. I experimented with different methods: some students I taught using textbooks, some I read novels with and explored vocabulary, but a lack of real engagement persisted. It wasn’t until I started to customize my classes that I started to feel excited and that excitement rubbed off on my students; several went on to tackle MUN (Model United Nations).


No matter your age, learning takes encouragement, recognition and the need for some form of acknowledgment - even from yourself.


My passion for education grew but big questions remained: ‘global citizenship’, ‘social responsibility’, ‘empathy’: what do these things actually mean and how can I teach them? I couldn’t find any pre-existing teaching tools or materials that could actually generate social impact and also help to combat climate change, yet nurtured self-awareness and empathy. It also had to be relevant to my students’ lives and ignite their curiosity for self-learning.

Why a T-shirt and Tote bag? 

I get asked this question a lot, but the truth is simple: T-shirts are often undervalued and are usually viewed as disposable commodities - yet the majority of people own a shirt. We waste countless resources, just like we waste human talent. Just like we take our clothing for granted, we also take for granted our own skillsets, our time, our education, and most of us don’t think deeply about why we do this. 

A simple T-shirt can teach us about emotional impact through its design. It can teach us about human rights; for example, the exploitation that occurs within the garment industry. It can teach us about technology and material innovation. But most important of all, it can teach us about empathy, if we would just slow down and really try to understand how it came to be - that a very simple t-shirt has gone through many layers of procedures, process and hands to get to where it is today. Just like how we should slow down and get to know ourselves and the things that we are intrigued by… What are they? Who are we? Why do certain things matter to us more than others? 

As teachers, we need a way to communicate better with our students - we need a "communication bridge". We need to see them for who they want us to see not who we think we see. And unfortunately, no matter how old we get, as students it’s sometimes hard to speak up, raise a question, or express who we are. Learning through design is a creative way to connect to each other better. - because it offers a higher perspective. It's not you VS them, it's you working alongside them through personal discovery! 


Just like a t-shirt, education is not ‘one-size-fits-all’ - education needs to fit the individual, not the other way around. 


Because no matter your age, learning takes encouragement, recognition and the need for some form of acknowledgment - even from yourself. We need a tool to track our progress, for us to see the progress and there's no better way to do this than through a design project. 

If I want my customers  to take away one thing, it would be that learning should deepen our empathy and appreciation for the world not make us feel small and unworthy of education. - Grades are only a small fraction of the education experience. 

Here at TOTES & TEES, we want to show you it can be as fun as retail therapy - that it's more of a gift of experience - not a chore. 


Education is for everyone, you are worthy of learning you just need the right tools to show you how. 

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