Nope means hope

24 June 2019


Nope means hope. Supporting their mum through breast cancer took two Wellingtonian sisters on a journey to create a thriving, socially responsible fashion label. Now they’re out to change the world, one t-shirt at a time.

Sometimes the things that bring positive changes to our lives happen completely unexpectedly. They might be stressful and sometimes traumatic, but it’s how we react to them that ultimately shapes our future. It was in one of those reset moments that Nope Sisters was born.

The sister design team of Brittany and Johanna Cosgrove create sustainable, custom embroidered clothes featuring messages about social and environmental issues ranging from sexual abuse, to gender inequality and eating disorders. But the design that started it all was inspired by some upsetting news.

In 2016, Brittany and Johanna Cosgrove’s mum, Bette, was diagnosed with breast cancer. ‘I had the idea of hand embroidering a t-shirt to resemble a mastectomy scar.’ Brittany recalls. ‘I made one for me and one for Johanna and we called it the Mastectotee.’

While Brittany originally designed the Mastectotee to support her mum and raise money for her dragon boat team of cancer survivors, it was when Johanna posted it on social media, that things took off. 'Suddenly it was like, wow, we can actually create fashion that makes a difference!’ says Brittany.

The sisters’ next design was even more personal, inspired by Brittany’s experience of being sexually assaulted when she was 13. ‘The NOPE tee is to empower survivors and confront the high rate of sexual abuse and violence in New Zealand.’ Brittany says. ‘We want to spread the message in black and white that NOPE means no.’

“We want to spread the message in black and white that NOPE means no.”

Now three years on, the Mastectotee and NOPE designs are part of the permanent Contemporary History collection in Te Papa and Nope Sisters is a growing business that has sold over 2,000 shirts worldwide.

Brittany talks about Nope Sisters and their future plans for the brand with a contagious energy. Sometimes she sounds surprised by her success and admits that going from an idea to running and growing a business has had its challenging moments.

‘Neither of us had any business or design experience.’ she says, ‘We started working in a bedroom at home and we’ve had to learn as we go along, but we have some really amazing and supportive charity and production partners.’

“We have some really amazing and supportive charity and production partners."

Partnership is key part of Nope Sisters’ mission to help bring positive change to the issues behind the messages. Brittany and Johanna work with a range of charities where they also donate share of their profits. ’It’s really important that we give back and help bring about change.’ Brittany says. ‘So far have six of our designs raise money for causes we’re really passionate about. That includes the Nope tee which supports Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP foundation and meweTOO tee which give to the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network.’

Nope Sisters have continued to add new designs and gain the respect of fashion fans and the business world. Last year, Brittany was a finalist in the Young Leader category of the Women of Influence awards and collected a $10,000 AMP Scholarship for using the power of fashion to bring about positive social change.

So what advice would Brittany give to someone with an idea to change the world? ‘Just go for it!’ She says. ‘I’m not a designer but I literally am succeeding because other people were too scared to do it. Nope Sisters is a happy accident and that’s how some of the best things happen. If you feel like you’re prepared to put something out and you hesitate, you’re probably too late.’