Founder & CEO of Shine The Light On Continues to Successfully Create Mental Health Awareness
Sift through your back issues of Village Living Magazine and you will find an article from April 2017 about a remarkable young man. What made his story so compelling was the sheer volume of trauma he sustained and heroism he displayed. While awaiting his arrival, I ran through my memory of the facts of this man’s exceptional and noteworthy life. Eli Brown, founder and CEO of Shine The Light On, shinethelighton.com suffered more by age 20 than anyone should ever have to endure – sexual abuse, depression, the resulting and ineffective coping mechanism known as alcoholism, two suicide attempts and ultimately, self recognition, outward admission and recovery.
The first and most pressing question I asked of Eli was what had changed for him since we last met. “I spoke at WE day in Winnipeg since then to about 18,000 people! What the Kielburgers (brothers Craig and Marc, founders of the WE movement) are doing is fantastic.” Besides the day to day running of a clothing business, which includes a 5:30am start and often runs until midnight, it’s the speaking engagements that Eli thrives upon. “The clothing line is simply the vehicle to get our message out there.”
THAT MESSAGE IS CLEAR AND PROFOUND…YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I asked if he could see himself following the Kielburgers’ path. “Yes, but smaller. I like to hear everyone who wants to speak to me after. I want to hear their stories.” Eli chooses to hang around for another 4 or 5 hours to make that happen. “It’s emotionally draining, much harder than a 12-hour workday, but in a good way.”
Although Eli finds these peak decibel level-and-bright-lights’ talks to thousands of people exhilarating, he shares with raw honesty that it can be tough to sustain. “Imagine, people sharing their stories, they’re all so open, which is the goal, it’s just that it’s a lot to digest sometimes, I’m learning those skills now… or trying to.” Eli bore his pain alone for a long time. “I was only able to get help when I finally opened up.” You may wonder, as I did, how he copes with this. “I take naps!” he answers with a slightly weary but entirely genuine laugh.
I was only able to get help when I finally opened up
Beyond the deluge of those waiting to share their own struggles, Eli and his team also manage a steady stream of daily emails. “Sometimes people just write in saying they ‘don’t know if anyone is going to read this but…’. We reply to absolutely everybody. If they ask to speak to somebody, we put them in touch with whoever they need to help get that process started.”
It cannot be ignored that the business itself is growing exponentially. When I first met Eli, his T-shirts with messages of support, acceptance and inclusion, were in a mere 220 stores.
Now they’re in over 1,000 stores across North America, around the GTA, at; Honey, Canopy Blue, Cashmere Blue, Rocket Cycle, Denise & Co, a kind heart and SpinCo. “It’s been a lot, I didn’t come into this with a business or marketing degree, but I’m learning.”
We reply to absolutely everybody. If they ask to speak to somebody, we put them in touch with whoever they need to help get that process started.
Evidently, he’s a fast learner as he was recently featured in O, The Oprah Magazine on one of Oprah’s product recommendation lists. He’s been featured in a number of magazines, podcasts and news programs, but beyond all the celebrity endorsements, it’s the creation of community that matters to Eli; it’s the whole point of this project. He understands first-hand and all too well, that community is the answer. The stores at which Shine The Light On hosts events and sells his clothing confirm this notion. Eli is told regularly by store owners that the people who buy STLO clothing share their stories, and that breaking the stigma by sharing is perpetuated by refusing silence.
On a personal level, I questioned how he dealt with this change. “Honestly, I’m slightly tired right now. It’s exhausting but I’m interested in what I’m doing, so that helps. There’s always fun stuff going on; events with stores where we take a celebrity to sign autographs, maybe musicians and a food truck, and we’re creating new products every month.”
Eli went on to explain that he doesn’t feel that he is running a clothing company. “The clothing simply shares the message, it’s what connects them to our mission. We’re building a community that encourages people to share their stories.”
Honestly, I’m slightly tired right now. It’s exhausting but I’m interested in what I’m doing, so that helps.
The next project which is taking up a lot of space in his already jam-packed daily schedule is to find a solution to the housing situation in Toronto for those in recovery. His excitement on the matter is palpable. “It’s a big issue. We’re working with the city, CAMH, and developers to create affordable housing. We want to make an impact in the mental health community. My goal is to spend more time resolving this issue.”
Impact is something that Eli Brown is becoming rather adept at creating. Each time I’ve had the chance to speak with him, he has left a huge impact both with his matter of fact attitude and his willingness to speak with truth regardless of the pain it causes him.
We’re working with the city, CAMH, and developers to create affordable housing. We want to make an impact in the mental health community.
As I turned off my audio recorder and thanked him for taking the time out of his packed schedule, he surprised me by asking something that no other interviewee has ever
asked…what the rest of MY day looked like. His interest was genuine. Predictably, it led to talk of restaurants, cooking and food, but the simple act of asking provided me with a subtle sense of importance, of mattering in my small corner of the world.
Here’s a man who actually talks the talk. Here’s a man who is going to change the pattern for those suffering in silence. A man who asks a simple question and creates a profound moment of caring.