“Believe me when I say that Stand Up Speak Up was born out of my anger and frustration. I have so many amazing and generous people in my life but getting them to chat about some of the issues I am passionate about has always been a struggle. We label too many topics as taboo for discussion at the dinner table, or we watch an issue be misrepresented for dramatic effect on television and it becomes uncomfortable to generate conversation that could lead to real change.”
When it comes to real-world change, it all starts with conversation. Whether you’re organizing protests on a local, national or global level or you’re advocating for changes to the products we use, you first need to get the message out and try to engage as many people as possible.
And yet, these conversations are not easy to start. Getting people to switch over from meaningless small talk to discussing a serious – and possibly dark – topic can feel like walking up a broken escalator.
We try to ensure that each of our designs is created with a specific cause in mind; many being created by artists who have lived an experience with the issues they discuss. You likely come to us with causes you are already passionate about and it is our mission to support you with imagery that helps you start a conversation that could be the catalyst to real world change.
We are a brand for the activist in you, who believes that change is possible. Our art is created to spark hope, generate anger, sadness, understanding, fear, togetherness — the full spectrum of human feelings. But more importantly, these designs are meant to support you in your own work as an advocate for yourself and others.
WE SEEK TO
- Provide ethically-made products
Compensate staff with a fair living wage
Work with artists to pay them fairly for their work
Give 100% of our profits to organizations and charities that better communities and marginalized and underrepresented groups
We are a family-run small business seeking to give back as much as possible. We wish to offer products that bring awareness to a wealth of topics, but this means that we do not have the resources to stock everything ourselves in inventory. We rely on a drop shipping partner to help us provide our over 200 tee designs.
Currently we pay on average of 80% of our retail price to our supplier and the remainder covers our costs and goes into the Acts of Kindness Project, to be donated back into our community.
Thank you for believing in our store. Every sale counts.
Karla & Zach
CO-FOUNDER ZACH TOLSTOY,
AS TOLD BY KARLA :
Zach has travelled extensively (as we worked internationally) and this enabled him to appreciate other cultures. At a young age he developed a strong moral code and I could see that he needed freedom and a gentle guiding hand, but not be told what to do. Zach is ever evolving and refuses to be defined by one skill, one role or one event. He is also a perfectionist who can be tough on himself.
We have talks that last hours and we discuss everything under the sun. We also look alike and have so many similar qualities; sometimes I feel as though he is my twin. Well before he reached high school, we were already interested in world issues. He would ask smart, pointed questions about topics his dad and I were discussing. Over the years, we had conversations about human trafficking, the effects of porn, homelessness, mental health, childhood trauma and abuse. I joke with him that he was becoming a male ally before he understood the term. These talks led to Zach sitting for 2 years on the Halton Youth Committee for Mental Health. Together we both have been trained in Mental Health First Aid and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills.
Zach’s mission in life has always been to see the world from multiple perspectives. Whether that be scuba diving, boating on a lake, flying through the clouds or driving across Canada. Zach is an old soul who has taught me lessons on love, kindness, self-esteem and why the world still needs me to fight my cancer like the badass I am.
CO-FOUNDER KARLA STEPHENS-TOLSTOY,
AS TOLD BY ZACH :
My mom had a very successful corporate business career at an early age. She was and still is renowned for her innovativeness, out-of-the-box thinking and for never being afraid to try new approaches. She then transitioned into the arena of entrepreneurship, launching her first business on her return to Canada. My mom has been fighting in that arena for over a decade now and although she got cut and broke a few bones, she has only gotten stronger and wiser.
I should probably mention my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in October 2018, but who gives a shit. My mother has not let that define her, she strives to live a productive life that works towards aiding others and provoking change. She is actively working with the Child Welfare PAC (Political Action Committee Canada), an important initiative to positively impact changes in policies to foster children. One of the causes close to both our hearts is Mental Health Awareness and Support.
The world needs more people like my mom – people who aren’t afraid to talk about the taboo, don’t ignore those that come from less, and genuinely want to be become better every passing day. We aspire to help guide these people, support them, and ensure they start the conversation.
WHY I BECAME AN ALLY
At my 50th birthday party, I held an event called Circle of Strength. It was for as many of the inspirational and hard-working women in my life that I could get into one space for the day. The event was meant to encourage self-reflection and growth while celebrating the power that women and people have to change themselves, support each other and change the world.
One of the workshops I organized for the day was on Love Privilege. In my opening letter to the gals, I described how I’d lived a privileged life in a family where love was all around us. At the time, I assumed that all families were like mine. It wasn’t until decades later, when I started volunteering with St. John Ambulance’s dog therapy program and visited teens at risk in schools and in a maximum-security juvenile correctional centre that my eyes were opened wide.
Through these experiences, I heard firsthand stories – some horrible and shocking – from current and former foster kids of the Child Protection System (CPS) of what life was like in foster care. One young man I quickly connected with seemed very vulnerable. He was 16 but had been in numerous foster care homes from an early age. He was smart and under normal family circumstances would have likely had a bright future.
However, he’d been inunstable situations and at age 8 he was assigned to a farm where he was treated as a serf. He had to work in the fields, cook dinners and cleanup after the whole family. Even if he exaggerated in his recollection, an adult farm hand would not have put up with this abuse. And yet, this child was subjected to such treatment! These kids are wards of our government and as such the government acts as their guardian. I like tothink of it as if Justin Trudeau is their dad. So how is he taking care of his kids? Not very well, I’d say.
I am also aware of wonderful foster care families. I know one where the parents understand their responsibility to help their child can extend beyond age 18 (when kids age out of the foster care system). They continue to offer support, guidance and much-needed love as they watch their child grow into a young and successful adult. Based on all my conversations with foster kids, that seems to be the case about 20-25% of the time. Our current system not only doesn’t ensure that all kids are put in a safe and loving home, but also is unable to provide foster parents with the proper support and training that they need.
Once I saw the realities of the foster care system, it changed my life. I knew I had to help. At first, I undertook some small initiatives within my local community. I focused many of Stand Up Speak Up’s Acts of Kindness initiatives on teens at risk and providing essential goods to teens coming out of correctional centres. I continued to volunteer doing dog therapy with teens throughout my area. I also did a series of podcasts about a missing sex worker and former foster ward named Shelley Desrochers and became convinced that had she grown up in a properly functional care system she would be alive today.
Jane Kovarikova, founder of Child Welfare Political Action Committee Canada (Child Welfare PAC) was one of my guests. She spoke about the legislative changes required to fix the foster care system. She was sharp, spoke eloquently and was precise in the changes needed to have the system work to help the youth brought into it.
I knew immediately that I wanted to meet her in person and chat. I felt she was making an impact and focusing on major and actionable changes. She grew up in the system herself and knew firsthand what foster children experienced. I reached out to her and she introduced me to PAC. I met amazing people who had come up in the system and had done very well in their lives. But, Jane explained that you shouldn’t have to be superhuman to move past the foster system. These amazing stories of perseverance and success come after fighting through the system, not thanks to its support. For instance, Jane is herself completing a PhD thesis, whereas too many other kids are overcome by abuse, drugs and the personal baggage created by circumstance and the system. After our first meeting, I was empowered, inspired and knew that I had to sign on to help. I saw Jane and PAC as the catalyst for positive changes to the system I was looking for.
Most kids, no matter their upbringing, don’t want to deal with their past. In the case of foster kids, there is often a great deal of trauma. Their records reflect this and are unfortunately available for others to read. These records are made available to the teen upon reaching age 18 and too often when these teens read the information about them, it can seriously impact their behaviour and mental state, as the issues they may have suppressed are brought to the surface. This is a crucial item we want to change to allow only the person whose record it is to have access to it at the time of their choosing.
For Jane, the foster care system is understandably a very personal matter as she started in the Barrie, Haliburton system and she’s about to become the President of that board with some 400 staff! She set this goal at a young age and her pinpoint focus and determination have allowed her to accomplish that goal. She achieved this within 12 years, as a result of her strategic thinking. Her drive is unparalleled and if she decides to be our Prime Minister or the head of a political party, I believe that she will succeed. She sets goals and musters all her energy and unwavering focus to achieve them!
To learn more about Child Welfare PAC, please contact us at:
We all have our own Circle of Strength. It exists both internally: in our traits, experiences, memories and abilities, and externally: in our relationships with others and the world. When I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer in the fall of 2018, my priorities and values changed over night and I found myself examining my own circle.
I discovered that one of my foundations of strength lied in the many amazing women I have encountered and had the pleasure to learn from and lean on. These were members of my family, friends from my 50 years on Earth and colleagues from all of my various career ventures. These women are a variety of ages, have different experiences and stories, and live throughout the world.
As a way of connecting to these women through my first few months of cancer treatment, I created a Whatsapp group full of women and named it “Circle of Strength”. When it came time to start planning my 50th birthday, it just came over me that what I really wanted was an event to celebrate and thank these women who had been there to support me through the past year.
The Circle of Strength Event took place on September 30, 2019 and included more than one hundred and seventy women from all over the world. Many came in just for this day and it was both a reunion and a celebration of things to come. The day included a series of workshops and learning experiences for the women present.
Take a behind-the-scenes look of how this event came together and some highlights of the day.
– Karla Tolstoy-Stephens, Founder of Stand Up Speak Up