Words matter. Whether we realize it or not, the way we speak to and treat others can have a tremendous effect on both our lives and theirs. As society gets more divided and our politics get more divisive, kindness is more crucial than ever before. The world is craving it, and it’s our time to deliver. I had the opportunity to connect with Natalie McKearin, founder of The Kind Coalition. Her clothing brand is a social good movement that not only promotes the importance of kindness but also donates 50% of the proceeds to anti-bullying organizations.
Do you remember the feeling of being bullied for the first time? I acutely remember each moment where a childhood (and even adult bullies) tried to make me feel inferior. What if we could help nurture each other’s light rather than snuff out our flames? When chatting with Natalie, we related in so many ways and shared sentiments of wanting the world to be a better, more compassionate place. As the daughter of immigrants and a hardworking entrepreneur, she brings unique and personal perspectives that I know will open your eyes. Her kindness is contagious, so I hope this interview inspires you to pay it forward and take #OneDayAtAKind.
Natalie, your brand is such a breath of fresh air in a time where we need kindness the most. Can you tell me about what led you to start The Kind Coalition?
Thank you, Jillian! The backstory is two-fold. First and foremost, I’m the daughter of a Lebanese immigrant, and I’ve seen the effect that bullying and prejudice have had on my dad’s life – and mine, subsequently. This awareness was magnified last June, when I got back from my destination wedding. I had just spent ten days on an island with the people I love most celebrating one of the happiest occasions of my life, and I never imagined how jarring it would be for me to arrive back in the states and once again be immersed in the social tensions I’d come to consider normal. I’ve always believed that we have a social responsibility to use our talents to better the world in some way, and I knew I wanted to contribute more than just another biting opinion. Thus – The Kind Coalition was born!
When did you get started and what was that road like for you?
I got started right away – I’m very much a “do-er,” which has its pros and cons. I take the “learn as you go” approach, rather than researching everything up front. I began emailing anti-bullying nonprofits and, to my delight, they were very willing to engage with me. Initial responses were so positive that I just kept going – I incorporated on my own and filed for an EIN, set up a business account, and reserved all of our social channels. Then came time to build a website, which was trickier. Thanks to a few Facebook groups of which I’m a part, I found my wonderful web designer, Kenzi Green Designs, and she understood my vision from the start. The entire process wasn’t without its roadblocks – initially, I had only planned on selling ONE shirt with ONE saying, and we had no graphic design in our logo. By this point, I was knee-deep into development and reluctant to back-track. But I listened to the feedback of trusted friends, and I knew it was best to go back, hire a graphic designer, and explore options to widen our initial offerings. I’m really glad I did. See – pros and cons to jumping in – sometimes, you have to go back and clean up mistakes!
Natalie, you’re the daughter of a Lebanese immigrant. Can you tell me what it was like growing up as a first-generation American?
My dad has served as an inspiration for almost everything I do. I’ve seen first-hand what it’s like to start out on a journey with absolutely no advantages, to overcome prejudice and bias, and to still manage to carve out a path for yourself. Being Middle Eastern in a post-9/11 U.S. still presents challenges for him. My dad always told me that “if a poor boy from a village in Lebanon could make it, so could I,” and that’s fueled all of my drive. Despite that, I used to work so hard to suppress the things about me that made me Lebanese, and admittedly, I still battle with my curly hair on a DAILY basis, but I’ve finally come to understand that the things about us that make us unique are what make us strong. I’m a huge champion for starting with what you know. Embrace the things about you that make you different. Your unique worldview makes you an asset – not only in the marketplace but in the world on the whole. There’s only one of you, and there is immense value in that.
In today’s current climate where immigration is such a hot button issue, do you have any advice for people wanting to show kindness and support to immigrants?
I definitely don’t have all of the answers about immigration and immigration laws, but I would say that, purely from a human perspective, my advice would be never to generalize and to lead with compassion. Everyone’s backstory is different, and we’ll never truly understand someone without getting the chance to know them. I always try to remember that the person is SOMEONE’S son/daughter/father/mother/aunt/uncle etc. We might not be able to relate to their specific situation, but we can definitely relate to those basic human relationships.
Communication has changed drastically since we were in school, and I can only imagine the implications social media and internet accessibility has on bullying. How do you feel social media has impacted bullying?
Social media has given every single one of us a platform to voice our opinions on a global level. It’s empowered us to share our thoughts rapidly and in 140 characters or less – sometimes, without much thought or consideration. It also provides a barrier behind which to hide, which makes saying unkind or hurtful things that much easier. I think that when used properly, social media can be such a force for good (look at the ALS challenge and how much money was raised!). Alternatively, social media can easily be used as a weapon, and words absolutely hurt.
With that being said, how can social media movements like yours help combat bullying?
I believe that our social movement, #OneDayataKind has the power to change the conversation. The #OneDayataKind challenge is simple – we are asking people to commit to doing one intentionally kind thing a day for seven days straight and challenge someone else to do the same. We believe that our habits build our character, and we want to encourage kindness as a necessary pillar. Ultimately, we believe that people tend to emulate what they see being said or done repeatedly. If mudslinging is considered cool and hip, then mudslinging becomes the norm. But with #OneDayataKind, we are asking people to place kindness front and center – to make THAT the “it” thing to discuss.
Can you tell me about a small act of kindness someone did for you that stands out in your memory?
I had an internship in college that was easily one of the worst professional experiences of my life. On paper, it was a dream. In reality, it actually gave me nightmares. It was a toxic environment that made me dread going in to work each day. There was one outlier – one of the full-time senior staff who was beyond kind. I was having an exceptionally bad day, completely disheartened and forcing back tears, which I never do in the workplace. I passed him in the hallway, and he offered a warm smile and said casually, “Hey Nat! How are you doing?” It was small and passing and he was completely oblivious to my struggle, but in a space where I felt totally demeaned and diminished, his taking time to call me by name and validate my existence was exactly what I needed. The fact that I’m telling this story years later and reflecting on the impact a small “hello” had on me is proof that kindness doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive – it’s simply about sharing in our humanity.
Your business has gained a lot of momentum, and you’ve drummed up quite a bit of press in the Chicago area! What’s a moment you’re most proud of?
This past December, I appeared on ABC’s Windy City LIVE to chat about The Kind Coalition. It was such a full circle moment for me because WCL was my first production-based television internship. After the internship, I was hired on as a production assistant and then promoted again to an associate talent booker. It was my first television family and some of the best people I’ve ever worked with. To be back there on the other side of the camera promoting my passion project was so meaningful.
What’s the most rewarding part of your business?
Absolutely the people I’ve met along the way. We’re still a startup, but slowly and surely I’m beginning to hear so many stories about people who connect with the brand and the mission for one reason or another. Listening to people’s stories and hearing about their hopes and intentions is beyond inspiring. I’m a creative and collaborative person, and hearing how so many people want to be a part of something that has a positive social impact gives me so much hope.
What’s your favorite way to show kindness in your daily life?
I think that looking people in the eye is such a small way of acknowledging someone’s existence. Admittedly, I’m not always good at it – especially if I’m having a bad day or haven’t done my hair!! But there’s something about eye contact that says to someone “I see you – I know you inhabit this world with me, and you have value.” My husband is also one of the best examples of friendship I’ve ever known – he goes out of his way to check on people in his life. He’s taught me so much about being a good friend and what a simple “thinking of you” text can do for someone’s day.
Natalie, you’re also a successful blogger and have a full-time job. I’m blown away by your ability to be so active and impactful. Can you share any advice on how you stay so goal-oriented?
Haha – you are so nice. I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic, for better or worse, but I think it stems from passion. I sincerely love the projects I take on. My advice is to find your passion – find something that excites you and go out and do it. I’m a firm believer in finding balance between the things that pay your rent and the things that feed your soul – if they’re one in the same, even better. Your passion can be a hobby, and that’s perfectly fine, but make space for it. The trick with any undertaking is to take the first step. Do it because you love it, and the money will come. The key is to incorporate things into your life that excite you, to set clear goals, and to stay focused – the results will follow.
What advice do you have for women looking to start their own social good business?
First and foremost, find a cause about which YOU’RE passionate. Passion is contagious. I would then recommend considering your audience and who might respond to the cause you’re championing. Who are those people? What are their goals and how do they align with yours? How can you reach them and what is the best way to excite them about what you’re doing? Lastly, just keep going. Starting a business is not glamorous or fast. It’s slow and tedious in the beginning – but the days where you make a sale or hear how your mission has positively impacted someone else absolutely make it worthwhile.
Did you fall in love with Natalie’s story? Follow The Kind Coalition on Instagram and help her movement grow!