What inspired your social business idea and how did you make it a reality?
Sometimes it's the simplest ideas that are the best, and when Brit created a simple embroidered boob and scar design on one of her t-shirts in honour of Mum's journey through breast cancer, it just struck a chord with others who had been affected by the disease.
When we both put pictures on social media of us wearing our mastectotees, we had requests overnight, from 30 friends who wanted one too. So we decided the very next day to just start filling their requests, hand embroidering t-shirts we bought. Then as we sold them, we gave half the profits to an amazing group of breast cancer survivors who were aiming to compete in an international sports event.
What we learnt from making 100 custom made breast cancer t-shirts in a couple of months was that sharing a simple but important awareness message was possible via clothing, if it had a genuine story behind it. It could also create useful funds for a charity which supported vulnerable people who were affected by the problem we had highlighted.
Matching a charity with a t-shirt message just seemed the most perfect way to start sharing the things we wanted to say as young women. It got us thinking about our own experiences and what we believed needed some impetus or awareness for change. Sexual consent, and sexual assault was definitely our next agenda, reflecting on a teen sexual assault Brit had suffered through. The NOPE tee and our name was quickly created. It has grown from there, and very organically. First as a little fundraising hobby on the side of our day jobs, and then into a fully fledged social enterprise.
What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?
NO mistakes are failures - that's the first lesson. If something doesn't quite work - it's ok to change your mind, and try something different. Don't be afraid to fail.
You can always go back or forward.
We could never afford to trademark our design so working only through social media, we opened ourselves up to having images and designs stolen and copied. Which of course happened, to both the mastectotee and NOPE designs, but we just had great fans and followers on social media who alerted us to these copycat designs, and when we spread the word mainstream media told the story of the breaches on the news, and the copies were never marketed. It was all thanks to the power of social media.
We know we have a strong responsibility to use this very carefully, wisely and positively now.
How have you become amazingly good at selling your impactful idea, service or product?
No BS! Be 100% authentic and honest in telling our story about why we do what we do.
Don't try to push the reason for your social enterprise dreams, just simply share what you genuinely believe in. Sometimes you have to share your vulnerabilities - that can be tough. Brit has opened up about her personal experiences of sexual assault, eating disorder, mental health issues and suicide attempts - because they all inspired her t-shirt designs. Not easy to do, but they are at the heart of why she runs this business. So if we are true to who we are - everyone can believe in the same things that we care about. Collaborators want to work with us, and help us, and our charity partners back us 100%.
Customers and partners smell BS a mile away - be authentic and uniquely YOU.
What are the top three 21C skills you use daily?
Creativity - always looking for new ideas, reasons to spread new messages, new ways to work with trends. Without a curious creative mind and search for fresh ideas we would go mad trying to cope with the dull everyday tasks of business.
Collaboration - you cannot do this alone. Don't even try. Great collaborators could be mentors, or others trying to build their businesses, or those who have the skills you don't, who can help and fill in the gaps. Be open to sharing and working alongside others. It's vital.
Tenacity - stick with it, even if you feel like you're not getting anywhere, just keep going, keep up the grind sometimes, because you never know what's around the corner. New opportunities will open up if you're willing to stick to your original goal.
We had no business experience, plan, or business goal, we stayed true to our original simple idea and we just grow organically, and stay open to change or opportunity as we go. If it doesn't feel right we abandon it. If we both instinctively like an idea, we follow it through, and make it work.
What’s your message for a potential young social entrepreneur exploring starting a business for good?
Don't try TOO hard to follow what others tell you are the RULES of business, trust yourself, back yourself, and be authentically you. Know your principals, for sharing and giving , and stick to them.
Get reliable help for the stuff you really don't know how to do, (or simply hate doing) might be tax and financials, might be marketing - and learn as you go.
Always appreciate anyone who wants to collaborate with you. They shouldn't be advising you to change what you do , but they should be loving working alongside you so that each of you adds to the other - complimentary collabs are absolutely vital.
The love of your community: customers, supporters, fans, charities and followers is the best thing about being in a social enterprise business. You are in this tNogether.
About Nope Sisters
Brittany and Johanna Cosgrove are the Wellington-based sister duo
behind Nope Sisters. Nope Sisters is an ethical NZ made clothing brand featuring strong social messages that confront and spark conversations about issues such as breast cancer, sexual abuse and eating disorders - and the social enterprise supports prevention and awareness of these causes by donating a part of its profits to the registered charities in New Zealand. The sisters were first inspired by their survivor mother's battle with breast cancer and launched the MastectoTee during Breast Cancer Awareness Week in 2016 to raise money for Cansurvive. Brittany says "We realised we could create fashion for a cause and that's when NopeSisters was born.". Since then, Nope Sisters have designed a range of clothing supporting good causes that help people and the planet.