Jeff Sparr is the founder, president and CEO of Textiles2 , based in Cumberland, focused on growth and innovation in the textiles industry. Previously, he served as vice president of Elizabeth Webbing Mills, where he specialized in strategic alliances and branding.
Sparr is also an artist and co-founder of PeaceLove Studios in Pawtucket, which has developed a workplace mental wellness initiative to relieve stress and build teamwork. In this effort, Sparr has partnered with some of the region’s top companies, including CVS Caremark Corp., GTECH, Boston Consulting Group, and the Newport Hospitality, among others.
In the health care field, Sparr has conducted programs with Fellowship Health Resources, Butler Hospital, The JED Foundation, the Providence Center, Trudeau Center, Bradley Hospital, The Kent Center, and Gateway Healthcare.
As part of its innovative business model, Sparr’s PeaceLove Studios has licensed products to Philip Stein (watches), Angela Moore (jewelry), William Arthur (Hallmark card line and CVS Caremark (internal cards).
Providence Business News asked Sparr to share the details of his art and wellness initiatives.
PBN: How has your work at PeaceLove Studios evolved to develop new partnerships and workshops with businesses to create a new kind of workplace wellness initiative, focused on relieving stress and team building?
SPARR: We look to offer entry points for everyone – corporations as well. We know that they, too, are dealing with something that affects one in four people – mental illness. It is something that isn’t spoken about, but affects everyone in some form – for companies it is employees, colleagues, and customers. The creation of the workshops and team building exercises provide a conduit on all angles for people that go through it – they come out with more empathy and understanding for the struggles that effect people that no one talks about. When barriers are broken down there is a more productive work environment. Our workshops are crafted to break down barriers in a very soft way; not threatening to anyone – it just happens.
PBN: Among your goals are to build inclusive spaces where communities can come together to experience story-telling, expressive arts and products that inspire a positive lifestyle. How does your business model work to accomplish this? What kinds of products do you sell?
SPARR: I refer to this as “build-a-bear” with meaning; “Life is good” with substance. In the business world, in the marketing world, people understand that. The actual model is “wear, share, and experience.” From a product standpoint, we work to develop products that embody and support a positive lifestyle. Licensing of the brand to companies that support our work allows us to be able to provide these products on a much wider scale. Our business model embraces partnerships with major corporations that have the brand width and the resources to offer us and join with us to make this happen.
PBN: May is “Mental Health Month.” Do you have any special events planned to raise awareness around mental health and mental illness in Rhode Island?
SPARR: The theme for Mental Health Month this year is “Get Connected” and that is something we’ll be doing for the second annual fundraiser right on the first day of Mental Health Month. On May 1, “Get Your PeaceLove On 2” will happen at The Met in Pawtucket. We’ll be enjoying fabulous live music with local groups, great food, including PeaceLoveTinis, which will be served in hand-painted PeaceLove commemorative glasses that people can keep.
Our raffle will include original art, and our corporate sponsors will be celebrated for helping us reach out. We will also be honoring Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien for his support of the arts in Pawtucket and for PeaceLove – without his support we could not have stayed in our location. Our fundraiser welcomes one and all and that embodies our movement – “making mental illness cool” – if anyone doesn’t believe it’s possible, come to this event.
PBN: As the delivery of health care services in Rhode Island moves toward primary care focused, patient-centered medical homes, are there networking opportunities for your studio to work with these new models of care with mental health professionals and advocates?
SPARR: With large as well as smaller companies, we are talking about a new model – one where mental wellness programs are a component of physical wellness programs. Every employee can benefit by participating in our programs – they will develop empathy and understanding that is hard to achieve in traditional formats. So, yes, we offer workshops and team-building programs, classes, and studio passes, but we see what we do as part of a broader initiative promoting total wellness both for the employer and medical setting. We need to address an “entry point” to begin those conversations, and then we need to carry the message forward.
PBN: What is the biggest challenge your enterprise faces in building positive symbols for mental illness?
SPARR: Believing that it’s possible. Doing something that hasn’t been done before. I want to make mental illness cool.
As an organization we have all the resources and people in place – we’re ready to go. What keeps me up at night is money. It is also believing [in our] viability from a business perspective. We can change the world – the only thing that keeps us from doing it is money.
As a CEO, myself, I recognize the viable business profit entity with the nonprofit side fueled with financial resources. We need to raise not a lot of money on the nonprofit side. But we need visionaries to embrace what we’re trying to do and join us in “doing well by doing good.” That’s why we’re creative when we approach a company for support – write us a check, we’ll give back corporate workshops and programming – and some meaningful and beautiful art.