McCann senior art director Kyle Shields launched a passion project last month featuring a message of acceptance and encouragement for anyone feeling worn down and, well, broken.
“I want people to feel seen. To not feel alone,” he said. “To give people permission to be themselves. To acknowledge the ‘imperfections’ that come with being a human.”
“The Broken People” is a line of clothing, art, and accessories shaped by Shields’ hunger for creative expression and his own struggles with anxiety. The theme that runs through each item is that if you feel broken, you’re not alone. “We’re all a little broken,” he said. “But that’s what makes us human…. In the end, we’ll be alright.”
One T-shirt reads “It’s okay to not be okay (that’s life),” while a denim shirt includes a small hand-stitched heart that is unique to every shirt. “These shirts are intended to have imperfections,” explains the description copy on the site. “They are made to be unique and broken.”
“I try to walk the thin line between inspirational and emo,” said Shields.
The genesis of the project goes back a couple of years, when Shields became aware of a problem that may seem familiar to many ad creatives: He felt uninspired—so busy with work for other people and brands that he’d lost touch with the love for creativity he’d had since he was a kid.
“Creativity became my job, not my passion,” he said. So he started to carve out time to create for himself.
“Maybe I’m a romantic, but I wanted to reconnect with the 14-year-old version of myself that always got kicked out of class because he wouldn’t stop drawing.”
He stopped posting photos to his Instagram and instead started using it to share his own art and design work. The response was positive, but as time passed and he rediscovered his passion for creativity, he also started to ask himself questions “like any good advertiser,” he said. Was he sharing a point of view? Who was he speaking to? What was important to him?
“If my goal was to do something that inspired me, I needed to ensure I was drawing on my own personal experiences—and inevitably the experiences of everyone around me.”
He started to think about the problem of mental health, how common it was, but how seldom it was discussed. “I used to—and still do—struggle with anxiety and depression,” he said. “Something that so many people experience but rarely talk about.”
That became the inspiration for The Broken People, with 20% of profits raised going to causes that support youth mental health.
He took his time—”I definitely didn’t want to make this cause more stress in my life,” he said—and called on his McCann colleagues Aaron Peever and Bill Schaefer to help develop the voice of his new brand. He also sought advice from a cousin, Matt Nevins, who works with non-profits.
The digital shop went live a couple of weeks ago, and more than half of the stock was sold within the first two days. They’re going to keep going with new designs, find new ways to promote the line, raise money for a good cause and spread the message, which Shields stressed is about encouragement, not resignation.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t work on your mental health, but I don’t feel like I’m in a place to preach because I don’t have the solution,” he said. “There probably isn’t one. I just keep working on it. I find coping mechanisms that make me stronger, and this became one of them.”