John Cooper student starts business to de-stigmatize mental health

Last year, as the country began to quarantine itself due to the COVID-19 pandemic, John Cooper School senior Roberto “Beto” Valenzuela decided to start his own business to continue conversations about mental health.

Valenzuela is an involved member of Active minds, a national organization with chapters on college and high school campuses across the country, including at John Cooper. The organization’s goal is to de-stigmatize mental health issues and continue conversations around mental health.

When he joined Active Minds, Valenzuela originally thought it was psychology. But as he learned more about the organization’s mental health advocacy, he said he fell in love with it. Today, he is co-chair of the Active Minds section of the John Cooper School and a member of the organization’s national student advisory committee.

Valenzuela saw how the pandemic and quarantine affected his mental health and that of his friends and family. He wanted to do something to help. So he threw Sparkle clothing, a non-profit clothing company that uses positive mental health messages in its designs.

“When they suddenly got personal, I decided to do something that could really change what was going on during the pandemic,” Valenzuela said.

All the money he earns from Spark Apparel goes to Active Minds and the National Institute of Mental Health.

During shutdowns last year, Valenzuela began taking online courses in entrepreneurship at the same time he saw the personal effects of the pandemic on mental health. So he combined the two.

“During COVID, I had all this extra time and tried to put it to good use by taking online classes,” he said. “I said ‘This is it. I can do something through this.

He officially launched Spark Apparel in December of last year, doing most of the work himself. He reduced his overhead by using free tools to build and manage his website. A friend of his helped with some of the drawings. Other designs he bought from graphic designers through Fiver, a website that connects freelancers with clients.

The business model, he said, is self-sufficient, so he doesn’t have to worry too much about it while it still balances school and business. When a customer purchases an item from their website, it goes straight to manufacturing where it is returned directly to the customer.

Sales grew slowly after launch, much to Valenzuela’s frustration. He had devoted a lot of time and energy to Spark Apparel and he wanted to see it succeed.

“Then I got a phone call from someone I didn’t know, telling me how she saw someone wearing a shirt and that prompted her to talk about the issues she was having. She was really scared to talk about it, ”he said. “She didn’t want to talk about it because she was afraid people would judge her, and after that she was able to have a conversation with someone who wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

The call was a turning point for him. He had been able to positively impact someone else and help remove, even a little, the stigma that still surrounds mental health issues.

“I just hope to keep growing,” he said. “My goal has always been to have a fundamental impact on how people talk about mental health and to find new ways to do it, whether through marketing – like video – new designs, new ways. to target people. “

He plans to continue running Spark Apparel even after he leaves for college. He worked on building a larger team to help manage and grow the business into the future. As he enters college next year, he will still be a part of Active Minds and hopes to find other ways to use social entrepreneurship to solve real world problems.

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