Breaking the Silence

Matt Pipkin used his own life story to help create change one stitch at a time

Matt Pipkin kept a dark secret locked away for 20 years before he decided to set it free.

Two years out of college at Purdue in 2009, Pipkin hit a low point in his life.

“I’d gotten into real estate and felt like a failure, like I was worthless,” he said, having gone into the profession right around the time the market bubble burst. “I’d never questioned my value before as a human being. That was really my low point.”

Pipkin’s parents encouraged and paid for him to see a counselor, who helped him identify what was contributing to the way he was feeling. Something that had haunted him since he was 6 years old and affected every aspect of his life in ways he didn’t realize before then.

Pipkin was sexually abused as a child by someone he thought was a family friend — a 17-year-old boy who was part of a family who attended the same church.

It was that incident that eventually inspired Speak Your Silence, a campaign Pipkin founded in 2012 about those who carry the kind of secret Pipkin carried for so many years. A centerpiece of Speak Your Silence is The Stitch, a zigzag piece of yarn that can be — you guessed it — stitched into an article of clothing, a backpack, hat or other items. It represents the frequency of a voice, whether as a survivor of child sexual abuse or a supporter of the cause.

The Stitch orange thread

The Stitch box and signature orange thread

When Pipkin first thought of the idea, of someone’s jeans with an orange zigzag stitched in, he wasn’t sure how it would go over.

“I thought maybe this is the greatest idea, or maybe it’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever had,” Pipkin laughs.

He knew he wanted it to be meaningful, but stylish. Any organization he came across that dealt with child sexual abuse left him feeling “burned out and depressed,” and Pipkin wanted people to feel hopeful with his product. To feel like the symbol didn’t come at the cost of style.

Pipkin tested out sample kits at the Thomas Hammer coffee shop in Boise, and soon had a line out the door for them. They continued to sell, but he wanted to aim higher.

He met with the creative director of Gap last summer to get some advice about how to take his idea to the next level, and from there Pipkin hooked up with a design firm who gave The Stitch kits a fresh look and dropped the price to $5 per kit. Sales went up dramatically after that.

The public donations and profits are devoted entirely to funding in-person, one-on-one counseling across the country for people who were personally affected by sexual abuse as a child. The individual doesn’t need to have insurance, either.

As of April 22, proceeds from The Stitch have funded more than 500 counseling sessions for individuals in 20 states across the country. Those who seek counseling through Speak Your Silence can remain completely anonymous, but Pipkin said he has heard stories from people whose lives have been changed because they found his service.

“We heard from a gal last May who commented on our Instagram saying she had been recommended counseling, and had she not found us, she’d be dead today,” Pipkin said, “but instead she’s turning 21.

“That was one of those moments when it was like, ‘Holy cow, this is why we do what we do.’”

Pipkin says “we” when he refers to the organization, but really it’s just him on staff. He has two other associates: CEO of Business Psychology Associates Sarah Woodley and CEO of C-Change Liz Thompson, who assists with year-round fundraising efforts for Speak Your Silence. Business Psychology Associates is part of a nationwide network of professional counselors that is partnered with Pipkin’s organization to organize referrals for any location.

Along with the counseling, Pipkin hopes The Stitch will spark more awareness of the issue and how many people it affects to break down social stigmas.

“It’s my belief that until you change the social dynamics around the issue, you’re not going to be as effective,” Pipkin said.

Speak Your Silence creator Matt Pipkin  at the desk in his office

Speak Your Silence recently launched “The Fam,” which is a group of ongoing monthly donors of $5 or more per month to fund counseling sessions. As of April 27, about 70 people have signed up to be part of The Fam, named for the family who helped him afford counseling not so long ago.

In the future, Pipkin hopes to hire a few more people for his staff, but he intends to keep building the brand in Boise. The Nampa Christian Schools graduate will stay close to home.

“This is such a down-to-earth place,” Pipkin says of Boise. “It kind of keeps us in those down-to-earth roots.”

Note: You can find Matt Pipkin’s organization at The Stitch kits are available for order on the website and locally at Flying M Coffeehouse, Mixed Greens, Bricolage, BeeWise Goods and Urban Exchange.

Photography by Nick Groff

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