Cody and Colby Wiktorski lost their brother, Casey, in January 2016 to suicide. The loss struck not only their family but also the entire Penfield community. Casey was Colby’s twin; they played soccer together and had an undeniable bond. Losing Casey to suicide was one of the first deaths caused by a mental illness that Penfield High School faced, and the town soon realized it wasn’t the last. Within the next year, Penfield lost three more current high school students and one recent graduate to suicide. “We didn’t mean to [start the company] at such a pivotal time in Penfield when we were losing so many people,” explains Cody. “But, it just unfolded, and with the moral support of the Penfield community, I think it reinforced the fact that we should be doing this.”
Fast forward 11 months, when Cody and Colby were at a cystic fibrosis ball. They were both strong proponents of bow ties and knew everyone in attendance was going to be dressed up, so rather than going to the store and purchasing some, they decided to try to make two bow ties themselves. The physical project of cutting the fabric and finding suitable patterns was harder than they thought it would be, but they identified a new device for conversation. “Strangers were coming up to us and striking conversations, so we thought, ‘What if we use this as an icebreaker between people and use it as a platform to talk about mental illness and suicide prevention?’”
Moving forward, the bow ties are used as a symbol of both Casey’s and Caroline’s stories. The fashion statements were the start of Wik Brothers and are dedicated to Caroline Richards who passed away at the age of 12 from osteosarcoma, while also being the one fashion accessory Casey loved the most. “Their legacies are going to live on forever,” says Colby. Family and friends moved away from buying bow ties at stores and now purchase them directly from the Wik Brothers website.
Wik Brothers advertises that 20 percent of profits from Casey’s Collection are donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and 20 percent of profits from Caroline’s Collection are donated to the Cancer Research Institute (CRI). But, after doing the accounting for 2017, Cody and Colby found that over 35 percent of profits were donated to AFSP and CRI, in addition to personal funds which were donated directly to Hillside Children’s Center.
The Wiktorski family received immense amounts of affection and respect from the Penfield community directly following Casey’s suicide, and Penfield High School has since declared it will be focusing more heavily on the signs of mental illnesses within the students. In an article posted by WROC-TV Channel 8, Penfield High School expresses that it is making student anxiety a priority at the school. “It affects everybody and anxiety certainly isn’t going anywhere,” says Nicole Whitehead, director of STEAM at Penfield Central School District. “We’re becoming more aware of it, so it’s really good to reduce that stigma.”
Unlike many clothing companies, Wik Brothers makes consumer purchases and experiences with their brand as personal as they can. “Whether it’s someone commenting on the personal notes we write them or the things we do outside of the actual clothing and apparel side of it,” says Cody. “I think everyone is on board with it.” Each logo is sewn on by Cody or Colby and topped off with a handwritten note to thank the consumer for taking part in the company’s action to raise awareness for mental health illnesses.
Casey’s suicide influenced the composition of Wik Brothers in more ways than one. Over a year after its foundation, the company is now a mechanism to emphasize the importance of speaking up about mental health, a platform for individuals to share their stories with the world, and to remember those who have lost their lives to mental health illnesses.