Clever Babes founder Hannah Milks is passionate about building community around mental health and self care in Kansas City, she shared.
The Liberty native is using her knowledge of design and somatics — plus her lived experience tending to herself through various mental health stages — to help other people care for themselves and connect to their bodies.
Through her Clever Babes Co T-shirts, sweatshirts, tote bags, and stickers — found online and across the city at various pop-ups, and featuring mantras like “rest is productive,” “self care is health care,” and “don’t let your feelings scare you” (with a ghost for spooky season) — Milks hopes to destigmatize conversations about and related to mental health, she explained.
“To me, wearing a really comfy sweatshirt when you’re experiencing an uncomfortable emotion, that is self soothing and self care,” she added.
Then in her resiliency groups — like somatic journaling sessions and sleepovers — she’s giving people the tools to listen to their bodies and to release stress.
“What I found is that nervous system regulation is not necessarily intuitive because the society we live in tells you that other people know your body better than you,” Milks explained. “But it’s pretty simple and straightforward. And your body really tells you what you need, if you know how to listen to it.”
Her somatic sleepover — planned for Nov. 11 in Gladstone — will be all about connecting others to what she said she believes is one of their greatest internal resources: their child and teen selves.
“I’m not a therapist, and I don’t personally have the capacity to take that on even if I wanted to,” Milks continued. “So, this is all about having a nice way of reconnecting you to being a kid. When you were a kid, you had this intuition of what brought you joy, what made you feel really creative, and spaces where you felt really safe. When you were a teenager you felt really comfortable telling people to ‘Fuck off’ and ‘No, that’s not OK with me.”
“So there’s all this wisdom that we have — from when we were a kid — that we slowly, as we grew up, kind of pack away to be more convenient for other people and for the jobs we have and in our relationships,” she added.
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Milks launched Clever Babes in October 2021 after a period of change and loss in her life.
“When you start doing healing work or inner work, it’s kind of lonely,” she said. “Now I am an embodied person, but I’m still living in a very disembodied world and society. So I just wanted other people who were also embodied to be around me and to help me continue to live that way. It’s really about building community.”
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While studying interior architecture and product design at Kansas State University, Milks focused on trauma-informed design, she noted. During her master’s thesis work on police facilities, she earned a scholarship to start somatic experiencing training, which is traditionally for trauma-informed therapists. It was at this training that she realized she loved working within mental health.
“When you think of therapy, you think of talking about things, but somatic experiencing is a body-based modality,” she explained. “So it’s like, ‘How is stress stored in your body and how can we release it?’ I think going to this training — as a designer — I just was thinking about, ‘How can this be applied to a community?’”
“It became a lens for me for how I see the world,” she continued. “Everything I did after that I had this perspective of: Is this helping people feel safe or is this making people feel unsafe?”
After graduating during the pandemic, she said, she quickly learned the architectural design world was not for her.
“To me it was like a very disembodied industry,” she added. “It’s really a lot of computer work. And I’m a people person.”
This led Milks to a job teaching kindergarteners and first graders the skills for emotion regulation through Synergy Services. While she loved the job, she said it was also eye-opening to see how young kids are often taught to ignore their bodies and trust that someone else knows better — like they can only be hungry during the 15-minute lunch period and can only use the restroom when the teacher says it’s time.
“As I’m learning how feeling disconnected from your body impacts adults, it was just really crazy to see how young it starts,” she noted, “in ways that you don’t even think about or notice because it’s so normal.”
Milks left the job after a period of changes and loss started to affect her mental health, she said.
“I was just like, ‘What do I do now?” she recalled. “The whole world is on fire.”
Serving without the cheese
On TikTok — which her cousin convinced her to join, Milks shared — she saw a lot of people printing on-demand shirts. She was drawn to the ones that dealt with mental health but felt like she could make cuter designs.
“I don’t feel like they’re really doing any destigmatizing by how cheesy they are,” she added.
At the same time, Milks noted, she started a group with a nurse friend and her coworkers who were dealing with the stressful and traumatic hospital environment during the pandemic.
“I was trying to teach them, if your system gets really activated in response to something, that you have someone who has a few basic skills to help you come back down,” she explained. “So that you can still be present with the rest of your patients.”
These two activities were the beginnings of Clever Babes, she noted. She soon started hand-printing her own shirts and hosting a somatic journaling group with a few other fellow entrepreneurs.
“I go to therapy and I love therapy,” she said. “This is really just a manifestation of me thinking about how nervous system regulation can be happening outside of the therapy office, which is all about accessibility. I think these things should be embedded in our community. We should have people who know how to care for us. We should have the skills to care for ourselves and it shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg.”
Soothing success ahead
Milks has big plans for the future of Clever Babes, she shared. She hopes to start a sister company called Take Care Co., which will include Clever Babes products but also other kinds of self care products, falling under the categories of self tending, self soothing, and self care.
She also noted that she’s working with local artist Kai Johnson to implement somatic drawing to her current offerings. She is also collaborating with St. Louis artist Caitlin Metz on how the design process can be an embodied process and possibly starting a group targeted toward design firms.