We Are the Champion®: 6 Incredible Humans Who Will Inspire You

When you hear the word “champion,” what do you envision? A person who runs the fastest, hits the most home runs, or can spell the word “feuilleton” without asking for a definition? Yeah, those feats are impressive and inspiring in their own ways. But if you ask friends and members of the Threadless community, being a champion means much more than holding up a shiny trophy that says you’re the best. In fact, many of the champions we see in our everyday lives never get the flowers they deserve.

But that’s not what motivates them. What fuels them is their selflessness. They find ways to make underrepresented voices heard. They shatter societal norms and give people the confidence to be their true selves. They’re generous with their time. Most importantly, they inspire us to do more, not for ourselves, but for others.

As we celebrate the launch of our new Champion® T-Shirts, we want you to meet six extraordinary humans who embody the spirit of a champion in their own ways. From handcrafting clothes for the disabled community to fundraising with their art, these champions use their powers for good. We’re excited for you to learn more about them and their unique perspective on what it means to be a champion.

“I really want to encourage people to take this idea of being a champion and focus it more so on: How can you be a champion within your community?”

Garnet Williams, Drag Queen, Artist, and Disability Educator

What does being a champion mean to you?

Garnet Williams: I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned that has really shaped me in how I see myself as a champion is that you can’t let the fear of shame or embarrassment rule your world. Because that’s just going to keep you from succeeding and accessing all of the potential you’ve been blessed with. I may not have this perfect image of this conventionally attractive person, and as we all know, the closer you are to a beauty ideal, the more power you tend to have.

So it can feel at times like, who am I to go out and access this thing I want to? Who am I to go out and perform here? Who am I to go out and demand that people treat me this way? And the answer is very simple. It’s just understanding that I’m a person, and I’m alive, and therefore I deserve the things that all my peers around me get to have. I deserve the same opportunities. I deserve the confidence that the people on the tippy top of the pyramid have. And then we should dismantle that pyramid.

Garnet Williams wearing vakseen’s “Gold Lives Inside You” Champion® T-Shirt
Garnet Williams wearing vakseen’s “Gold Lives Inside You” Champion® T-Shirt

“Being a champion to me means that giving up is never an option, no matter the challenges or the difficulties you are facing.”

Carlos Tato, Multidisciplinary Artist

What does being a champion mean to you?

Carlos Tato: Being a champion to me means that giving up is never an option, no matter the challenges or the difficulties you are facing. Being yourself even when bucking the trend. It means to believe in yourself even in those situations when you fall or everyone says “you won’t be able to” and you get up, learn, improve and move forward anyway. A true champion is not made by victories, but learning from mistakes. What makes the difference is not the aptitude but the attitude: a champion is not born, it’s made.

Many of the designs in your Artist Shop raise money for important causes ranging from Humanitarian Aid to Racial Injustice. What role does art play in making the world a better place for everyone?

I think that my art as such won’t solve other people’s problems, but maybe in some ways it could generate time or opportunities to find solutions. I believe that not helping when you can is closing doors to the future. Oscar Wilde said, “Art is the most intense form of individualism the world has ever known.” I truly believe art is a high form of self-understanding, enlightenment, and regeneration for both yourself and society.

Anything else you’d like to share?

First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunities you offer while showing that another way of doing things is possible. Also, I encourage everyone to take a look at the new Halloween collection and stay tuned for the upcoming designs and products. Cheers!

Carlos Tato’s “Survival Ready” Champion® T-Shirt
A portion of proceeds from Carlos Tato’s “Survival Ready” Champion® T-Shirt benefits MedShare.

“Being a champion means putting back your heart and soul into your community. So, for me, that is the queer, trans, disabled, and POC communities.”

Sky Cubacub, Founder of Rebirth Garments

Rebirth Garments, your line of fully customizable, gender-noncomforming clothing, empowers people of all genders, sizes, and abilities to express their individuality and identity. What is the value of self-expression, particularly for those in the communities you serve?

Sky Cubacub: For me, it is important for my survival. I used my self-expression in high school when I was figuring out my sexuality and gender both as exploration and discovering myself. I also saw it as armor to put on in order to gather the strength to go out into a world that is so difficult to be in as a POC queer neurodivergent person. Dressing up, playing with makeup, cutting my hair, and body modifications have always been my main way of coping. Many of us do not have the options available to us because of mainstream fashion not putting value on our identities, so I have as many customizable options as possible to help people realize their dream look.

What do you find most gratifying about making clothes for underserved communities? What keeps you going?

When my clients try on the clothing for the first time, I love to see their reactions the most! I’ve had a lot of people cry because it’s the first time they feel comfortable and cute in their clothes. I like to think of what I do as a type of clothing therapy, helping to unpack the trauma that the fashion industry has put onto us. Most of the people I dress have never had something made with their specific needs and desires taken into account, so my clothing makes them feel seen. I also love empowering people through teaching them how to create their own garments, because we all used to make our own clothing, and the fashion industry wants us to forget that so we’re reliant on them.

Your Discord, Disabled Covid Vaccine Oral History, invites disabled individuals to share their vaccine experiences so others in the community can prepare themselves to get vaccinated. What advice would you give a disabled person who is on the fence about getting the vaccine?

Join our group on Discord! We are all very glad to be vaccinated. This is a space where we can figure out how to best prepare because there is so little research on disabled folks in regards to the vaccine. We have tons of channels for different kinds of disabilities where we support each other on vaccine prep and aftercare that is more tailored for our specific disabilities. For example, taking more or less of certain medications, or timing monthly medications, or period cycles to not coincide with vaccine times.

I started this group with another disabled queer person, Hannah Caddell, after I had a severe allergic reaction to the Moderna Vaccine and was hospitalized. But at the same time, I felt so relieved to be vaccinated because I know Covid would likely kill me (which people don’t think about for those with unapparent disabilities). So if I had had this group before, I would have gotten the Johnson and Johnson vaccine instead because it’s better for allergic people, so that is what I will be getting for my booster shot!

Sky Cubacub wearing “Love All Trans Lives” by Norman Duenas
Sky Cubacub wearing Norman Duenas’s “Love All Trans Lives” Champion® T-Shirt. A portion of proceeds from this design benefit the National Center for Transgender Equality, The Trevor Project, National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, and Trans Lifeline.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’ve been creating a fashion curriculum for the Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia teen programming called Radical Fit. It’s a fashion-based series that embraces craft making and DIY while providing a safe space for teens to discuss gender equity and to dream and create through personal expressions of style. Check out the YouTube playlist of workshops. We are about to start our second year of workshops! I’m also working on the pilot of my own kids show called Sky and the Rebirth Warriors that I am very excited to share with the world!

“To be a champion is a matter of attitude, not titles. It’s an issue of examples.”

Ninhol, Illustrator

What does being a champion mean to you?

Ninhol: To be a champion is a matter of attitude, not titles. It’s an issue of examples. Never forget your past, take a stand on relevant issues, and keep walking for a good present and future for yourself and everyone else.

Your T-Shirts “Help Me” and “The time is now” not only raise money for charities, but also create a sense of urgency around issues such as environmentalism and mental health awareness. Which issues today are inspiring you to make the most art?

In addition to the environmental and mental health issues that are always present in my work, racial injustice is an issue that haunts us and needs to be addressed, mainly because it is responsible for other problems such as mental health, for example.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I currently work in my style. I want to show a little more color in my illustrations and I intend to address other topics relevant to my local reality.

Ninhol’s “Keep Walking” Champion® T-Shirt
A portion of proceeds from Ninhol’s “Keep Walking” Champion® T-Shirt benefits the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network.

“To be a champion is to be authentic, to strive to know who you are.”

Norman Duenas, Graphic Artist

What does being a champion mean to you?

Norman Duenas: To be a champion is to be authentic, to strive to know who you are. You acknowledge your existence by embracing your feelings, your failures and achievements, and your individuality. In other words, being brave enough to be honest about yourself.

You donate 100% of your proceeds from your Love All Series to charities including The Trevor Project, Black Lives Matter, and Stop AAPI Hate. What inspires you to give back so generously through your art?

I’m just doing my part in helping to elevate the vulnerable communities facing a barrage of racism, discrimination, abuse, and hate. That’s what I can do for now.

Anything else you’d like to share?

To the Threadless community, keep creating what you love. Help when you can. Keep speaking up.

Norman Duenas’s “Love All Asian Lives” Champion® T-Shirt
A portion of proceeds from Norman Duenas’s “Love All Asian Lives” Champion® T-Shirt benefits Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Stop AAPI Hate.

“Being a champion to me means sharing all of your knowledge and resources with others.”

Whitney LaMora, Art Curator and Founder of The Martin

As the founder of The Martin, an artist-first community space in Chicago, what ways do you strive to be a champion for artists?

Whitney LaMora: The core reason I sought out opening a gallery and event space was because I didn’t feel valued, seen, or listened to as an artist in my own space rental and event production experience. I was consistently met with poor communication, event confusion, and extremely tight timelines due to my limited budget and the inflexibility of rental options.

When I was lucky enough to secure a storefront and begin the process of working with artists on the other side of things, I vowed to never let an artist have the experience that I had, and that I would protect their vision and work by supporting them with clear and consistent communication, delivering on all promises, and sharing any and all tools I had to help their vision become a reality. Artists need people to show up, to lift them up, and to help them get to the next step. If I’m able to do that with any of the tools, resources, and connections I have, why wouldn’t I?

Who are some of the champions of the art world who inspire you the most?

Theaster Gates is the epitome of an artist who not only makes incredible work, but is always deep in community-based projects that amplify artists and the communities that need support, exposure, and safe places. I wildly admire everything he does and is doing for Chicago. Other champions are emerging, and I’ve worked with several mid-career artists who have helped me in my own journey. Here’s just a few, but there are many more

  • Siobhan O’Loughlin is an immersive solo performer who is also an activist and leader of the phone banking group the Misfits of Democracy. She has created more communities in her work and social justice passion than one can fathom on the basis of radical listening. What! I love her.
  • Alyssa Cuffie is a visual artist based out of Raleigh whose consistent print and magazine work is rooted in artist exposure and uplifting black and brown voices. She also now offers education in the NFT world with her new project, The Chameleon.
  • Artists and curators Kaylan Buteyn and Pam Marlene Taylor are not only amazing at their crafts, but consistently strive to give back to the artistic community, whether through residency and exhibition opportunities with the Stay Home Gallery, or Kaylan’s Artist / Mother Community podcast. They’re always hustling and providing.
Whitney LaMora wearing EmelineTate’s “Support Artists” Champion® T-Shirt
Whitney LaMora wearing EmelineTate’s “Support Artists” Champion® T-Shirt

What types of stories and themes do you seek when curating art?

When I’m curating, I don’t necessarily look for specific stories and themes. I look for work that makes me stop, gives me a reaction, even pushes me outside of my comfort zone. I look for work that has something to say and artists who have landed (at least at this moment) on what work they’re presenting to the world. The more honest, the more vulnerable, the better. In general, I prefer to work with emerging women and nonbinary artists, which lends itself to a lot of parallel themes simply in the type of person I often work with. But of course, themes vary and I’m always thrilled to see what is submitted or what’s in someone’s portfolio.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Picking and packing in the Threadless warehouse was one of my first jobs when I moved to Chicago, after I admired the brand for so long from afar. I remember watching for the individual design launches, packing Christmas lists with t-shirt favorites, and witnessing the company grow and change. I’m really thrilled to see Threadless—a company that constantly pivots, but keeps at its core a commitment to artists and their work—is alive and well. I’m honored to be a part of this campaign.

You can keep up with me and The Martin on Instagram. I also curate an ongoing gallery show called LOCUS. My next personal project is an immersive performance based off of figurines I was given in my childhood, opening this November. Thank you, Threadless!

Want to be a champion for artists? Each Champion® T-Shirt you purchase directly supports the independent artist who made the featured design. This allows them to continue doing what they do best—creating art you love! As an added bonus, some artist-made designs also benefit charities through Threadless Causes! Shop with purpose.

Rafael Velez

Copywriter at Threadless. Lover of thin-crust pizza, heavy metal, and B horror movies. Food source for a husky and two cats.