By CHARLOTTE EMSLIE
BOSTON—For one sartorial startup, bringing the topic of sexual consent into the mainstream is as easy as choosing the right t-shirt.
Let’s Be Clear is pioneering the movement, and they’re doing it with the help of everyone’s favorite clothing staple.
Launched six months ago, the platform raises social awareness about safe and healthy sexual conduct through conscious apparel and consent education.
“We’ve been live for close to six months, so we’re still very much in our infancy, says Kara Wernick, head of development and education. “We’re looking to ramp up and secure support outside of our immediate circle.”
Kickstarter has been valuable in securing that support: With eight days to go, the campaign has raised more than $16,000, and needs $10,000 more to meet its goal.
“In the public sphere, people are starting to recognize our apparel,” Wernick says. The soft, stylish t-shirts, tanks and sweatshirts promote awareness through catchphrases like “Not Yours,” “Explicit” and “Stand With Survivors.”
Now in the process of really taking off, the business is, as Wernick explains, a self-sustaining model. “The apparel generates profits, which we then put into the education component. It relieves some of the fundraising pressure by allowing us to rely on our own work.”
With sexual assault at the forefront of college campus issues, education around consent is more important than ever. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that a shocking one in five women will be assaulted at some point in their college career. The threat is also there for men, but less so—one in 16 experience some form of sexual violence, according to the NSVRC. Societally we’ve also seen numerous assaults where, like in this summer’s case of Brock Turner, the Stanford University swimmer who raped an incapacitated student, alcohol has made consent nonexistent.
In less extreme situations, though, the mere lack of education about what constitutes consent can lead to dangerous outcomes. The rules surrounding hooking up and general sexual conduct can be murky, especially for young people thrown into the brand new environment of college.
That’s where Let’s Be Clear is looking to make a difference. “It’s truly about developing the conversation,” Wernick explains. “Treating consent as a positive, normalizing it. It’s such a necessary component of all relationships and interactions.”
The lack of conversation can simply be from discomfort with the topic. “Consent doesn’t need to be this scary, inaccessible concept,” Wernick reasons. “We’re really trying to make it as straightforward as possible. We want to make sure that people have all the tools they need.”
Successful consent education, however, requires understanding the audience you’re speaking to. “Our set of workshops is designed for all populations,” Wernick says. “We run them for universities, businesses, sports teams, parents of elementary, middle, and high school kids. It’s important to tailor language to each of those audiences. The way a parent would talk to a child about body autonomy and sense of self is different than how we’d discuss consent with 18-year-old college students.”
The Let’s Be Clear team met and formed at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. “Our own personal backgrounds with consent education started there. Rachel (Verner), our founder, was the sexual assault team response manager on campus,” Wernick says. “We all had individual experience running workshops at fraternities and other places at school. We’ve gradually built on that to develop the program we have now.”
The inspiration for the clothing line was born from Wesleyan’s annual fashion show. “Rachel and a few others came up with consent-themed underwear to display in the show,” Wernick says. “They were really well received and sold out quickly.”
That positive response is what made Verner and the rest of the team recognize the potential of the apparel in furthering the consent conversation. The T-shirt, being such a cultural staple, is the perfect conversation starter. “It’s a universal, visible article that,” Wernick says. “It makes the conversation relevant to general dialogue, not just individual interactions.”
Looking ahead, the goal is simple: Keep developing that conversation. “Seeing success at the local level has allowed us to build on that,” Wernick says. “Long term, we want to create a widespread network of schools and online resources, alongside high-quality apparel.”