October 17 2018

#STANDARDVOTES: Kayla Robinson's First Vote

“I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland and I moved down south to Southern Florida around the 2016 election. It was such a culture shock to see how the Southern way of life works. It really got me fired up”
The watershed moment for Kayla Robinson’s Green Box Shop, an online t-shirt company known for its outspoken phrases featured in the designs, was in July 2017. Frank Ocean, the sometimes elusive singer and songwriter, took to the Panorama Festival stage in New York City wearing a pair of blue Dickies and a white $19 shirt from the label that proclaimed “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic when you could just be quiet.” Images quickly went viral and the sales spiked, overloading the then year old shop but also garnering it name recognition the world over. The event was a departure from the hobby-like origins of the brand, cementing it as a business worn the world over.

Back in 2016 Robinson, who was 17 at the time, started the company with a two-part focus 1.) to raise money for her to go through certification training to become a yoga instructor and 2.) as a way for her to speak out in a new environment she found herself in. But within a year, things changed.

“It was around the 2016 election,” Robinson, now 19, told The Standard over the phone. “I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland and I moved down south to Southern Florida around the 2016 election. It was such a culture shock to see how the Southern way of life works. It really got me fired up.” Amongst the triggering events was the high schooler being told she violated the dress code for wearing a #freethenipple shirt. That moment led to the April 2016 founding of her online t-shirt shop which, now boasts an avid group of followers as well as celebrity co-signs from the likes of Ocean, Mindy Kaling, Lauren Jauregui and Zendaya, and 17 employees.


“It’s really important that people know where I come from because a lot of these shirts come from my own personal experience and personal thoughts”
The Standard

“Our main business mission is to source our fabric sustainably and make a point that apparel companies can thrive and be sustainable and sweatshop free,” Robinson explained. And while that backend work is a case study for the fashion industry at large, what’s printed on those shirts is a string of political or activist phrasings, many times from Robinson’s viewpoint as a Afro-Latina, bisexual, feminine woman.

“It’s really important that people know where I come from because a lot of these shirts come from my own personal experience and personal thoughts,” Robinson says of why she is vocal about all of the intersections of her identity. “For shirts that touch on identities outside of my own, I try to be very communal; I ask for help from my followers and partner with other friends or creatives that may have ideas that speak to their personal experiences.”

These perspectives give birth to  a variety of designs. While the shirt Ocean wore came from a tweet, other quotes have included “A woman does not have to be modest in order to be respected,” “You were brainwashed into thinking European features are the epitome of beauty,” and “Free all cannabis ‘convicts.’” And the penchant for activism runs through the company beyond just the words.

In the past employees would regularly volunteer en masse with agencies like feeding South Florida and consistently, various designs on the site donate a portion of proceeds to various efforts. “Right now we’re donating to the Baltimore Ceasefire,” Robinson said. “Their mission is to eradicate gun violence in baltimore city, which has the highest percentage of gun violence per capita.”


“In school nobody really taught us how to vote, especially when it comes to the midterms, so everything i’m learning is really the first time”
The Standard

This November will be Robinson’s first time being able to vote but she’s already done the work to educate herself, reading what she can online, discussing with friends and attending Yara Shahidi’s #WeVoteNext summit. “In school nobody really taught us how to vote, especially when it comes to the midterms, so everything i’m learning is really the first time,” she said of the experience. “Living in South Florida a few issues I’m really passionate about are like gun violence and politicians taking money from the NRA — Senator Marco Rubio is definitely not getting my vote — climate change and prison reform. For me, prison reform is something that really needs to be on the political landscape.” And she isn’t the only one as one in ten eligible voters and 20 percent of eligible black voters in Florida are affected by a law restricts felons from casting ballots for life. Amendment 4 would see this overturned for felons who were not “convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole and probation.”

While Robinson has moved on from the plan of being a yoga teacher as a long term goal — she still enjoys the practice — she still is looking forward. Namely, she hopes to continue to help with urban farming efforts as she sees it as a pressing issues.

“I’m very passionate about food justice and health and making sure that everyone in America is nourished,” she said. “We have a big problem with food deserts in America and it disproportionately affects people of color and people in low income areas so I’m passionate about urban farming and helping people in urban areas get educated on how to be sustainable in the food department.”


Photographer
Ysa Perez
Writer
Mikelle Street