Local t-shirt company aims to raise awareness around mental health

Three years ago, Tammy Choi and her family moved to Canada. On top of being tasked with finding a full-time job in a new country, she also had to find a job that would accommodate her meetings with the hospital.

At the time, Choi’s daughter had an eating disorder that had relapsed. She was admitted to a day program where she would go to the hospital for several hours a day, and Choi herself was on-call for urgent cases, attending several meetings on a weekly basis.

For these reasons, Choi said she had no way of being able to both have a full-time job and fully support her daughter Hoi. This led to her idea of starting her online business, Isle of T.

“At times, she was under 24/7 supervision. I needed to sleep in her room on the floor to watch her over from harming herself,” said Choi, founder and owner of Isle of T. “One day an ad about how easy it is to build an online store got my attention. Without a second thought, I started this online business journey.”

Choi was eager to start her business but had some reservations as she was new to the e-commerce industry. However, after working day in and out to create several different t-shirt designs and build her site, she has now successfully launched her online business and even has an accompanying blog where she shares her journey and the obstacles she has overcome.

Throughout the whole process, Choi says that one of her biggest inspirations has been her daughter.

The wolf dog t-shirt is one of the many designs that Tammy Choi’s daughter has created. Tammy Choi/Isle of T photo.

“Another reason I wanted to run this online store was that I could put her drawings onto some tangible products,” she explained. “Everything she drew was an apple of my eye, and I was hoping that people may also like her drawings and that gave her affirmation about herself of which she had little back then.”

Choi and her daughter have crafted several t-shirt designs for the site. Choi says her favourite designs are the ones that her daughter drew, which include the wolfdog and crazy rat, but the t-shirts with positive quotes and words of affirmation also hold significant meaning to her.

After Choi heard the news that her 21-year-old niece had committed suicide, she found herself in deep grief. She did however find comfort in creating designs that included quotes and illustrations that focused on mental health awareness. One design that she created at the time was one that said, “It’s OK not to be OK”, a quote that she stood by during moments of grief.

“I feel positive quotes have power to motivate, inspire, and encourage, especially when people feel low or depressed,” she said. “At times of my trying moments, reading quotes gave me insight on how I should live my life and therefore changed my mood for the better, so I hope my designs can also have this effect on people.”

In the future, Choi says that she would like to transform her online store into a non-profit business, with funds going towards resources on eating disorders or mental health organizations. She says that her main goal with her business is to not just be a platform for people to shop on, but a platform that brings awareness to mental health.

“My dreams are to raise the awareness of mental illness to as many people as possible through making campaigns or workshops at some companies, or build a community on my web or Facebook page where people can share their feelings or seek help anytime they share,” she said. “I want my platform to not only be a shopping platform, but also a sharing and supporting platform.”

For a closer look at Choi’s designs and more information, visit isle-of-t.com. For all Markham Review readers, a discount of 20 per cent will be taken off on orders with two or more items with code markhamreview20.


Photo: One of the t-shirt designs by Tammy Choi features an illustration of a semicolon and birds flying away, with the semicolon being a symbol for people with mental illnesses who choose not to give up their life and keep fighting. Tammy Choi/Isle of T photo.

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