Students launch nonprofit clothing company with positive message

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KENILWORTH, NJ — It’s been a cruel year, but a group of Kenilworth art students has blended fashion and compassion to offer a little comfort.

Students in the Practical Arts course at David Brearley Middle–Senior High School recently launched Be Nice Co. clothing, with its own accompanying website. Their mission is to spread a positive message and to care for their community. In fact, the nonprofit company’s Veterans Day launch was a nod to the Kenilworth VFW, which will benefit from the proceeds of the inaugural Be Nice Co. clothing line.

Practical Arts folds in the concepts taught in web design and multimedia art and design classes. The students’ Be Nice Co. sprouted from an idea to teach some life lessons as well.

“Kids love fashion and streetwear, and I wanted to take that route to give students the opportunity to be creative, learn new skill sets, but also put a positive spin on,” said technology teacher Jacob Ulasevich. “Back in my first year — and still now — the simple rule of my classroom was to be nice. That year, I taught and got close with all of the eighth-graders — current sophomores — and they’d always joke about how often I said it, so it became a running thing with us. When the clothing idea came to me, the name just seemed to work. We are a company, but we are also trying to promote being a nice company.”

The school’s principal is impressed.

“It inspires you to think that a bunch of teenagers combined creative marketing with course content and technology to spread a message that the adults are always telling the kids: Be nice,” said Principal Jeremy Davies.

The students are spreading the word about their orange-logo–emblazoned hoodies and T-shirts on social media, where they also share inspirational quotes, messages and videos.

“The goal that we want to be spread through the charity and the name, Be Nice Co., is to think about others. Not everyone has it easy in life, nor does anybody have a perfect life. So this charity is to help others in need and to think about other people’s situations in life,” said sophomore Vaughn Marranca.

The reviews on the website show that the entrepreneurs have a talent for comedy, as well.

“The best thing since sliced bread, I promise!” raves a customer described as “literally our teacher.” And “our social media manager’s mom” notes, “My son looks really handsome in these clothes.”

The community benefits from the Be Nice Co.’s positive message and cause, but the nonprofit has also been paying off for its student team.

“One major thing I always struggled with was my confidence doing pretty much anything … like social media, emails or even just talking to people I have never talked to before,” said junior Justin Hemhauser. “Over time, I have become more present with facing my confidence, like in skits, emails, conversations and pretty much everything. Be Nice Co. has helped me with confidence, in order to complete the projects we have had with a smile on my face and a little extra kindness in my heart.”

Be Nice Co.’s first product line will be for sale through Wednesday, Dec. 16, with all proceeds going to the veterans group.

A focus on compassion isn’t a new concept for Kenilworth’s public schools, which have expanded social and emotional learning curriculum, as students struggle with increased isolation and anxiety as a result of the pandemic. The district also participated in September’s “Start With Hello Week,” a Sandy Hook Promise initiative that aims to prevent children from feeling left out.

Davies said that, even as the Brearley students have experienced their own challenges during the COVID-19 era, they’ve chosen to concentrate on others.

“These kids have been through a lot recently — rhetoric has been ugly, society has been caustic. They’re looking for simplicity, peace, something nice. For the good of others. Because they know that others are wounded. These Brearley kids have empathy,” Davies said.

Learn more about the Be Nice Co. at https://beniceco.us/.

Photos Courtesy of Sheri Berkery

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