MotherTongues – Shirts and Statements of Brotherhood With Ethical Consumption Values to Match

When Michelle Hamman decided to stray from her job as an electrical engineer she turned to her South African roots and her beliefs in ethical consumption for inspiration. Upon moving to the United States from her native country there were plenty of cultural and societal differences but one aspect in particular stood out strikingly clear and a came with a bit of remiss, “South Africa, and Africa in general, a much more community-oriented culture than the US. The African concept of Ubuntu (I am because we are) is lived out daily in especially small villages,” she recounts. As more time passed and she became settled in the United States this lack of united community still nagged at her core and she viewed it as an opportunity to make a change, a difference in not only the US but other countries as well. “I realized that every culture/country has some cultural concept that is unique,” and thus MotherTongues apparel was born.

MotherTongues began literally as an in home project between Michelle and her husband, Jaco, “I started small with 2 designs, thinking fellow immigrants would be interested,” yet these unique t-shirts that come screened with words in inherent to one country that dignify a cultural ethic to the region soon took off, “I quickly realized that it doesn’t matter which language a word is in, it is the deeper meaning of the word that sells the t-shirt.” In only five short years MotherTongues has expanded to include words from 14 different countries and still retains the original mission to spread societal awareness, especially those pertaining to community, harmony, and brotherhood. The selection process for each printed shirt is also a meaningful rite itself as Michelle takes great care to understand not only the term but the way of life from the area in which it was born, “I love to find words/ideas/philosophies that we can all learn from and that will enrich our lives.” This generally entails either visiting the country itself or personally conversing with those native to the country, “The ‘perfect’ word will describe a unique, positive attribute of a culture, and will not be translated into a single English word.”

MotherTongues thrives on diversity with such words as Gezellig (togetherness that knows no time) out of South Africa, Dadirri (listen, wonder, nurture, Mother Earth) from Aboriginal Australia, and Lagom (enough is as good as a feast) from the Swedish language are just a few examples. What marks this company as one interwoven even more with ethical consumption morals is that along with teaching and uniting fellow man Michelle and Jaco felt it only natural to constitute both fair trade and green creeds as they expanded their market, “I realized that that it only makes sense that the ethos of MotherTongues needs to grow to embrace the planet… to use Fair Trade/fair labor t-shirts, and not t-shirts made in sweatshops.” It has been a journey in adding more and more green attributes to the business, “I’ve tried to make changes one at a time (organic cotton, Fair Trade apparel, 100% post consumer waste paper for hang tags, brochures, shipping envelopes and business cards, buying carbon offsets for office electricity and shipping.) I realize that no choice is ‘perfect,’ but every little change helps.” The combined ‘little changes’ have thus certainly added up and is a message that all can take to heart; no positive change is worth neglecting nor it is not worth a due amount of praise. It is after all the slow and steady that in the end make it for the long run and are able to stay the course.

Outside of manufacturing and shipping process, $1 from each shirt sold is donated to the Center for Women in Transition, “I knew from the start that MotherTongues should also try to help a charity/ies who help the marginalized in our society.” This Center acts as a safe haven for both women and children against abuses such as sexual assault and domestic violence as well as a mediator to cope with any significant life-changing situations. Ethical consumption is not limited to merely the materialistic items themselves but can ideally encompass what else that tangible article can represent in fostering and supporting a better way of life for those less fortunate.

In spanning the globe and reaching an ever-expanding public, MotherTongues offers to fellow ethical consumption enthusiasts and those wishing to promote both sustainable living and social consciousness yet another platform to do so. A glimpse into the lives of those living far off also brings a much more personal kinship and with it an understanding of their possible plights, a shared rejoice in their successes, and even the potential to adopt meaningful messages depicted in each of the terms screened on the shirts. Michelle herself has noted that just in the researching for her cause she has changed not only as a person but so has their entire family unit, “Personally I have grown significantly through this experience…As a family we too, have changed, as we’ve become mindful to recycle more and consume less…The values of community, peace, justice, and ecological well-being contained in the words transformed us, becoming part of our ‘philosophy of life.’” This same opportunity she, through MotherTongues, wishes to impart to others and in turn shape the world to be more accepting and united. One shirt at a time perhaps Michelle can erase or erode a few of the stark walls and cold faces she was met with upon her very first move abroad.

To learn more and see the shirts and other apparel from MotherTongues head to their website:

Additionally a special thanks to Michelle Hamman, owner, creator, and visionary for MotherTongues for the interview.

Photo credits: MotherTongues