“You never realize who is hurting and that is why we should be kind. I wish more people would understand that everyone has a story, and you may never know who is struggling,” said Summer Smith of Butler.
A sophomore at Hillsboro High School, Smith opened her own home-based business, One Life Apparel, in January, in honor of her late uncle, Barry McNew, who lost his life to suicide on July 9, 1994, as well as her mother’s cousin, Christ Loskot, who passed away on Aug. 4, 2017.
“My uncle (I never got to meet him), my mom’s brother, committed suicide. Growing up, we talked about it, but it was more something that my mom and I shared together more than it being a widely talked about thing,” Smith explained. “So when COVID came, I started hearing about how mental health was really deteriorating and I was like ‘that must be terrible for those going through it.’ Then it hit me.”
Through her own battle and understanding that mental health conditions have been exacerbated by the pandemic and stay-at-home order, she has made it her mission to raise awareness of mental health, as well as suicide prevention.
“I didn’t know what to do. It got really bad to where I would have terrible anxiety and depression, and I was like ‘how do I get out of this?’” said Smith. “And so, thankfully, by help from my family and a few really close friends, I was able to make it out. After I made it out, I was inspired to use my story to be the voice for people who are too afraid to speak out.”
One night while strolling through Walmart, she purchased a crew neck long-sleeved shirt, and after channeling her creativity and artistic abilities, she decided to bleach tie-dye the fabric and finished it with a Rolling Stones logo.
“I thought maybe people would be interested in this, so I posted it on Snapchat and people were wondering where they could get it,” Smith said.
The sophomore began designing and selling more items, and shortly thereafter, established her small business, where she custom makes clothing and sells boutique items.
“I don’t do any of this for the money. Once I started making money, I knew I didn’t need it for anything. I was like ‘I would love to put it back into a cause that means the most to me,’” Smith said.
As part of her mission, she donates all proceeds she earns to the National Suicide Prevention Foundation each month, and to date, has raised roughly $2,500 to help others feel like they’re not alone.
“Everything I make goes back into suicide prevention. My whole purpose in life, I’ve always said, is that I just want to help people and I just want to save people,” said Smith. “And if I could just save one person, that would be the best gift in the world. And I’ve had so many people reach out to me and share their stories, and its the best feeling in the world whenever you have someone say that you’ve helped them.”
While battling her own personal challenges with mental health, her mom and others encouraged her that she only gets one life and to make the most of it or she would be missing out. The counsel she received would eventually serve as a moniker for her business.
“If my uncle would have been able to share his struggles, and my mom’s cousin could have shared his struggles, maybe they would have gotten to pursue happiness in their one life,” she said. “That has kind of been my driving force in everything I’ve done is knowing I have two people that I have lost. They just didn’t feel like they could share. There’s a really big stigma around mental health, which breaks my heart because its not a thing to be ashamed of. If I wouldn’t have reached out, I don’t know where I would be right now.”
Through One Life Apparel, Smith offers custom made and boutique items–mostly clothes, as well as shoes, beanies and other products–that she sells online. After finishing remote schooling each day, she goes to the lower-level of her home, where she operates, to fill her orders. She uses a variety of tools to help her craft each piece, including a Cricut, heat press and smaller hand-held irons for intricate details, and also paints some designs by hand.
One of her favorite pieces are the suicide prevention T-shirts that feature a semicolon, reminding others to keep going. In addition, she made 55 shirts for Sources of Strength, a suicide prevention program she is apart of at Hillsboro High School.
To further advocate for those struggling with a mental disorder, she recently joined forces with Cross Over Ministeries as a student board member, and is currently planning a 5K Suicide Prevention event to be held in the coming months.
“She has done so much her entire life. She is so selfless and truly is a great daughter, student and friend,” said her mother, Laura. “I’m very proud of her.”
In addition to remote schooling and running a small business, Smith participates in high school softball and competitive cheer.
“I never realized how serious mental health was until I realized my mom had lost a brother, and then she lost a cousin. You never realize how much people are going to hurt until you leave them behind,” said Smith. “I feel like this is my purpose. I was put on this earth to be a kind heart, to listen to people and just be there for people.”
Her unique items may be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OneLifeApparel21, on Etsy at www.etsy.me/2M6DCai and on Instagram @OneLifeApparelCo.