Two Australian men who suffered from terrible depression after being bullied throughout their childhoods have launched a company to help kids avoid the same fate.
Melbourne dads Chris Glebatsas and Anthony McDonough have created a social enterprise and skincare brand called 'Unlabelled', with 100 per cent of profits going directly to charities tackling youth suicide.
"My entire high school experience was absolutely torturous," Chris tells 9Honey Parenting. "I was bullied continuously. I was faced by the same bullies every recess and every lunch at school. They would wait for me and taunt me and call me names."
"I was called 'fat' and a 'nerd' and I didn't fit in. Everybody else knew I was gay before I did."
'It was really traumatic'
Things got so bad for Chris that he became suicidal. Fortunately, he somehow found the strength to reach out to his mum.
"I went to her and explained what was happening to me," he reveals. "She took me away for a while and then to doctors but there was so much damage done."
In fact, the entire experience was so traumatic that he was eventually diagnosed with PTSD as an adult - after a business court case a few years ago triggered "trauma" that was never dealt with properly.
"And that's the thing about childhood bullying - the experiences stay with you for life," warns Anthony. "The trauma of the court case reset Chris back to his childhood - and he was reliving the terror every day. Luckily, we found a therapist who specialises in PTSD."
"He had to write a list of all the things he had endured, and I finally understood just how bad it was," he adds.
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Today, Chris is able to take the positives from the experience.
"It's part of my story, and we would never be where we are today if I hadn't got through it," Chris admits.
Anthony was also subject to terrible bullying as a teenager.
"I don't talk about it much because it was really traumatic," he reveals. "I didn't know I was gay until quite late in life. I grew up in a country town, I didn't even know what a gay person was and had no exposure to anyone that was different.
"I was the kid that did really well at school, but I wore a back brace for the last three years of school due to scoliosis - which went from my neck down to my waist."
"The teasing and bullying that I endured was awful... the kids just knew I was different."
Anthony went on to get married, to Grace's mother Jane, but it wasn't until after they broke up and his father died that he came out to his family.
And so, the inspiration for the brand also came from Grace, who is now 18 - and the candid conversations the dads were having with her.
"We saw first-hand the effect the lockdowns were having on her and her friends in the last couple of years," Anthony explains. "A lot of young people had no mental health issues before COVID-19, but are now struggling with things like eating disorders, anxiety and depression."
"We, as parents, could see it was just the tip of the iceberg. We wanted to do something to help."
"With our background in skincare, (the pair formerly created global brand LQD skincare) we thought - let's create a social enterprise that can help kids with their mental health."
In fact, those conversations with their daughter were the inspiration behind the name of the brand.
"Grace told us - 'kids don't want labels'," Anthony explains. "Life would be better if kids were label-free. There is so much pressure on kids just to fit in - and labels and stereotypes actually make it worse."
"We want kids to celebrate their differences and the individual they are. All our advertising is around helping kids recognise and accept who they are."
Grace became a part of Chris' life at the age of three and was quite shy at that time.
"We would walk through the supermarket - and I'd say 'Grace, who cares what people think of you - just be yourself and celebrate who you are'."
"Chris really brought her out of her shell," Anthony notes. "And that's instrumental to what we are doing with 'Unlabelled'."
And this message is highlighted on the product's bottles with messages like:
- Be a goth who likes colour
- Be a punk who likes Beethoven
And it's also encapsulated in their powerful brand video. The lyrics read as 'Do you get tired of hiding in the shadows? It's time to retire your disguise and let yourself show. Don't you realise that you are more than you know. You're beautiful".
Their key "mission" is to help kids accept who they are in terms of race, gender, body image and sexuality - "because these are the things that can lead to bullying and youth suicide."
"Every year, more than 70,000 young Australians attempt to take their own lives," Anthony declares. "This is a huge number of kids. Three out of five kids are bullied at school, and 20 per cent of those are bullied on a weekly basis, like Chris and I. And these figures are even worse if you are an LGBTI or transgender youth. It's a national crisis."
Unlabelled's "amazing" product range features hand wash, body wash and body bars, all of which are natural, vegan, cruelty-free and Australian made - with all profits going to Black Dog Institute, QLife, Headspace and Kids Helpline.
The company has already made a huge impact financially - with products now sold online and at every Chemist Warehouse store across the country for just $8.99 each.
"We're forecasting to donate $300,000 in the first 12 months to our partner charities and this increases to over $1 million by year three", Anthony tells 9Honey Parenting. "Chemist Warehouse have been a partner from day one and been amazingly supportive. They love what our brand is all about."
But it's the personal impact that also means a lot to the co-founders and dads.
"We've had a lot of parents reach out to us and say; 'Thank you for doing what you are doing'. We had one parent whose child has vitiligo - the skin condition featured in the campaign - and she was thrilled we were normalising the condition."
Another mum reached out to say she has a trans son and she used to worry every time he left the house.
"I was on the phone just this morning to mum who said 'I have a child who doesn't fit in and this makes a big difference in our lives. The response has been amazing."
The dads are also a great example of a modern blended family - and the couple have co-parented Grace 50/50 with Jane since she was little.
"We are so lucky with how our situation has worked out, Grace has had so many people around her who love her.. and there has never been any angst in our co-parenting relationship, which is a testament to Jane."
"Grace always gets the best of us - with the ability to move between houses and all the tools she needs to thrive. She has taught us so much about her generation."
If you need immediate assistance, please call crisis services Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Help Line on 18.00 55 1800. If your life is in danger, please call 000.
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