Question: Do you remember D.A.R.E.? Of course you do. The drug abuse resistance program we all went through in elementary school? “DARE to keep kids off drugs?” The black t-shirts with the red and white lettering – not to mention the in-your-face ’80s font?  Yeah, we all remember those.

Well, I (Jen) don’t remember much from D.A.R.E. classes, but I do remember those shirts. That’s how I became intrigued with Austinite Adam Sweeney.

A multimedia artist, Adam’s t-shirts for his company Stereotype Apparel are abstract. Somewhat of a conversation starter, really, with feel-good messages printed across the chest, like “No Sound Louder Than Love” and “Are You Listening.”

Adam founded Stereotype Apparel shortly after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in April of this year, to address the negative social affects of stereotyping and labeling. His mission also includes educational outreach programs, and scholarships for at-risk youth who positively contribute to their community. Check out the video:

Adam is passionate about breaking down stereotypes, and fortunately for us, he’s also passionate about chatting. He joined me recently for a little get-to-know-you session.

You’re a man of many different trades and artistic abilities. How did you end up in Austin, and what were you doing before Stereotype Apparel?

I’m originally from Houston but my individual passions moved me to Austin. There’s energy to this city that’s unparalleled. It’s something you want to be part of, and you can witness that surge of energy channeling through Austin in the actions and connections of everyone here. It’s not often that you see so many groups receptive to the idea of change or acceptance of newcomers.

With all the beauty and diversity the town offers, you honestly find yourself feeling almost obligated to add a little bit of lightning to that storm. Hopefully, the sounds from people supporting Stereotype Apparel will create a collective boom and we can add a little thunder and lightning of our own.

But to answer your question, my background is a little all over the place. My degree is in theatre and film, and I work as a journalist and photographer while also writing screen and stage plays. I’m still active in all those disciplines, and helped create the entertainment and sports publication Playmaker Magazine two years ago, which is based here in Austin.

What inspired you to start Stereotype Apparel?

I think part of me has always wanted to create a project that could help other people. The genesis of Stereotype Apparel was sparked around the time Trayvon Martin was killed. While discussing the incident with some of my friends, I came to realize that everyone I know has been negatively stereotyped to some degree at some point in their lives.

So I thought more about it and asked myself, “what if we could rise above labels and create a movement that unites different groups through a message of acceptance?” And so began Stereotype.

What’s your opinion on stereotyping in our country? How can the Austin community battle those stereotypes and inspire action?

Stereotypes are some of the most dangerous and divisive devices in America and they are, unfortunately, everywhere. If I asked someone to describe a liberal or conservative in politics, or a “typical” homosexual person, adjectives would start flying, many that are hurtful. Our community can battle that by recognizing that every individual is made up of complex characteristics, and the most effective way we can make a difference is by listening to one another. Anybody can look at someone and form an opinion, but if you take the time to listen to their story, you have automatically broken down that initial impression you had about them. Talk is cheap, but listening is priceless.

The exciting part about dealing with this issue is the chance for us all to overcome it. Some of our most powerfully profound and passionate messages have come during times of struggle to change, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s stance during the Civil Rights movement. This generation is fighting additional battles (and let’s not forget that racism is still very much prevalent in our country) and I believe that the result will be positive.

We just have to come together and realize there is strength and unity in difference. I think Stereotype Apparel can help us do that.

Do you have a personal story or history with stereotypes?

Being raised by a single mother brought some unintended struggles, which many others face, in socio-economic standing and the location where I was raised. Plus, I have always pushed against labels, so I grew up as this skater kid with dyed hair who would go to football practice and then head to theatre rehearsals. I found out quickly that a lot of people fear difference and want to put you in a box. So, if you’re a guy in theatre, you’re obviously gay, as if that’s a bad thing. If you’re a football player, then you lack intellect. The list goes on and it’s just a bunch of fallacies that have been handed down throughout generations. It’s destructive and I believe that we’re better than that. But in order to rise above it, we have to offer our hand to those outside of whatever group we feel comfortable in. At the end of the day we’re all human beings looking to be understood.

I think a line from a song by The Format describes what Stereotype Apparel is about really well; “I’ve been waiting all this time to be something I can’t define.”

Who creates the designs for Stereotype? The messaging and imagery is bold and eye catching. What are you going for with the actual t-shirt designs?

I came up with the conceptual designs for our initial “Sounds Collection,” and the State of Shapes design collective did a great job helping bring them to life on the shirts.

Our goal is to start conversations between people, whether they have the shirt or not. That starts with the shirts. Each collection is going to be created by a different design team and focus on an individual theme, which will create a completely unique style. This time we focused our collection around the element of sound. Who knows what the next one will be? I’m excited to find out.

I can’t wait to see the full line in August. Can you give us a quick preview of what we can expect from Stereotype in August and beyond?

Absolutely. For Stereotype Apparel, the shirts are just one piece of the puzzle. Our “Living In Stereo” outreach program will go to schools and universities to discuss the cognitive and behavioral effects of stereotypes and discrimination on society. We’ll also be giving scholarships to youth that have overcome adversity and are working to battle stereotypes in their community. And as a lover of arts and activity, we’re working with musical artists, film companies, and sports franchises to develop a rewards program for students and community participants who embody our philosophy of unity within diversity. Like America, we’re constantly evolving and I’m excited to see where we end up.

Thanks, Adam! The official Stereotype Apparel online store opens August 15, but Adam is currently running a campaign to help get the company off the ground. He’s also launched a presale special for donations of $25 or more. These donors are guaranteed to receive their choice of Stereotype Apparel shirt before the general public. Visit the campaign page to contribute and learn more.