The brand proving that the fashion industry has a heart
“The murderous, meaningless caprices of fashion”. Over the years, these infamous words and philosophy of Karl Marx (1976) have led many to argue that capitalism and fashion will always be inescapably entwined. Mainstream fashion revolves around a consumerist model, whereby designers are constantly churning out new designs in an attempt to be the ‘trendiest’. In correlation with being the most popular, these major fashion houses are some of the richest organisations in the world.
Accordingly, when we think about the fashion industry, the act of charitable giving is probably not the first thing that springs to mind. If I were to tell you that you could transform young people’s lives by purchasing new clothes, you would most likely scoff and call me superficial. However, Australian streetwear label and social enterprise HoMie are defying stereotypes.
HoMie’s journey dates back to 2015 when three friends decided to set up a Facebook page to raise awareness about homelessness in Melbourne. The following year, ‘Homelessness Of Melbourne Incorporated Enterprise’ aka HoMie was founded by Marcus Crook and Nick Pearce.
Currently, HoMie has two collections available to buy both online and in-store: ‘Signature’ and ‘REBORN’. Their latest line REBORN; which launched last month, is made up of one-off pieces using up-cycled fabrics. The eco-responsible collection symbolises the idea that with the right care, people can be brought back to life, even better than they were before.
Besides REBORN being so well-received, in a few weeks, they will be launching yet another collection. This will be a monumental moment for HoMie as it is a collaboration with the iconic sportswear brand Champion. Such a deal highlights the scope of popular support that the clothing label is gaining.
However successful the collections have been, it is important to stress that HoMie is not just a clothing label. It is an organisation that supports young people affected by homelessness or hardship. HoMie aims to equip them with skills, confidence and experiences to be more work-ready and better prepared for their future. The team does so by running two social impact programs.
‘The HoMie Pathway Alliance’ programme employs interns to provide them with accredited retail training and education. The interns are people aged between 16-25, who are experiencing hardship or homelessness in Melbourne. By allowing them to work in their flagship store, they can gain hands-on retail experience and also receive a salary. Both of which are actually beneficial in helping these young people get back on their feet, ready to pave a new life.
The second social impact programme that HoMie runs is the monthly ‘VIP Shopping Days’. On these days, young people experiencing homelessness or hardship are welcomed into the store to shop complimentary brand-new HoMie garments, beauty services, plus lunch with the HoMie team. It is important to note that these two programmes are funded from the clothing sales and public donations.
These initiatives are so commendable that in 2019, HoMie was even awarded Australian GQ’s ‘Social Force of the Year’. This success has helped elevate the social enterprise and provide the team with well-deserved public recognition. After meeting with Co-Founder Marcus Crook in Berlin, I was both impressed and intrigued to find out more about HoMie and their upcoming plans.
As a Liberal, the issue of homelessness is something that is of strong concern for me in my political life. Having volunteered with the Labour Party since 17, I know all too well the severity of the issue of homelessness in London. The lack of social housing, cuts and ever-rising housing prices, are deeply affecting people’s lives. My own grandfather was homeless for five years before receiving social housing. From personal experience, I can assure you that it is never as simple as it seems. Homelessness can happen so quickly to anyone, it is important that as a community we support those in need where we can.
After working alongside young people experiencing homelessness for the past 5 years, I was especially interested to hear about Marcus’ opinions and ideas on the topic. Amidst his very busy schedule, Marcus kindly made some time to chat with me about the homeless crisis in Melbourne and how HoMie is using fashion to help alleviate the strain it is having on young people.
Lucy: “The evolution of HoMie is a pretty unique one. How exactly did HoMie materialise from a Facebook page into a clothing brand? What was the most influential factor in the development process?“
Marcus: “On our page, we had a lot of people wanting to get involved, donate clothing, blankets or food. So, we set up Australia’s first-ever Street Store which was an initiative which started in South Africa”.
“At Federation Square of Melbourne’s city, we set up a pop shop where we had people come and donate items of clothing they wanted to pass on to someone in need. We then invited homelessness services to come along with clients and shop for free. We also had barbers on-site cutting hair and food vans offering free food. This day was so special and we found it beneficial for the entire community to come together. So, we wanted to do it more permanently. Hence the idea of HoMie was born”.
Lucy: “When transitioning from Facebook page to clothing label, why did you opt for Streetwear?”
Marcus: “Following on from that day, we found that clothing was an easy way to connect and educate people on the issue. We never anticipated having our brand or store initially. After the street store we ran a crowdfunding campaign to have a pop-up shop in Melbourne Central. This was an opportunity to emulate that day in Fed Square in a more closed off, private location”.
“The store was fitted out with donations from major brands like Stüssy, Cotton On, Target and some other local brands. We printed some tee shirts with the logos from our page and we had a lot of people gravitating towards them as they wanted to support us”.
“Naturally, we decided to expand, offering more in-house designs. The pop up was for 4 weeks. At the end of the month, we had all the Big Issue vendors come and shop for free”.
“This pop up kept getting extended and we ran those VIP days once a month for a year in Melbourne Central, before moving out to Brunswick Street. We fitted out the entire store with just our own brand, which was a bit of a milestone looking back. It’s crazy to think it’s now been 4 years”.
Lucy: “The money generated from the clothing line goes towards funding the two social impact programmes that HoMie runs. Can you elaborate on these two programmes in more detail and how successful they have been?”
Marcus: “For the ‘HoMie Pathway Alliance’, so far HoMie has had 19 graduates. In total, they received 6420 hours of on-the-job training and 480 hours of professional development”.
“There has been an 83% graduation success rate. 91% remain meaningfully employed or in further education at 12 months after graduation. 67% have transitioned to full-time/senior roles by 12 months after graduation. 90% of the young people who were living in government-funded assisted living before the HoMie Pathway Alliance, now have successfully transitioned into private accommodation”.
“There have been 52 VIP days, with 1056 VIP shoppers. HoMie has given away 4802 brand new items of clothing. 264 beauty services have also been provided”.
Lucy: “One of the initial goals of these programmes was to break down the stigmas associated with homelessness. In the 4 years you have been involved in these projects, do you believe you have been successful in achieving this goal?”
Marcus: “I hope so! It’s so nice to hear friends, family and people using the correct language like a ‘person experiencing homelessness’ not a ‘homeless person’ which we are really passionate about. If we have created a more inclusive and understanding community, that’s what this project was initially started for so I’d be really happy if that was the case”.
Lucy: “From those statistics, it is clear to see that the interns are benefitting from these programmes and learning transferrable skills. Since running these programmes, can you share the most important things that the HoMie team have learnt?”
Marcus: “We are a small, nimble team and we’ve grown and learnt things along the way as our social impact programs have evolved. Mostly we are guided by the young people in our program, that has shaped the last few years of our impact”.
Lucy: “Do you have any special success stories that you wouldn’t mind sharing?”
Marcus: “Everyone who has been through the program has really grown and developed in their own ways, it’s super inspiring for us to see the development of the interns. Some are now managing major retail stores in Melbourne, some have gone on to further study and set themselves up. It’s incredible. We keep in contact through alumni catch-ups every couple of months which is really special”.
Lucy: “Moving onto the topic of homelessness more generally and how these programmes have informed the HoMie team about it. What do you believe are the greatest contributing factors of homelessness in Australia?”
Marcus: “Lack of affordable housing, unemployment or lack of opportunities. Especially now these are really scary. Family violence and mental illness are also major contributors to the problem here in Australia”.
Lucy: “Reflecting on your experience in Melbourne, what do you feel needs to change within communities to improve the current situation?”
Marcus: “Education is key for all social issues, the more we can understand the problem the better equipped we’ll be to tackle it. I’d love to see more opportunities for people experiencing disadvantage, to break the cycle of poverty”.
Lucy: “How accountable do you believe the government are in the homelessness crisis and what should they do to help resolve it?”
Marcus: “More could be done. I’ve just put together a video around the homelessness crisis and the COVID 19 pandemic. Unfortunately, our most vulnerable citizens are being left behind in all policies that have been announced so far which is really disappointing”.
Lucy: “Looking forward at what the future holds for HoMie, undoubtedly 2020 seems to be a very exciting year. After winning GQ’s ‘Social Force of the Year 2019’, how has this affected HoMie and its vision for 2020?”
Marcus: “It was incredible to be recognised by such a huge publication like GQ. They have been really supportive of us for a while now. This exposure really helps small business like us reach more people. As a social enterprise, without profit, there’s no purpose. So, we need to be focused on the performance of the business so we can have the greatest impact possible”.
Lucy: “Regarding your upcoming collection with Champion, what do you feel differentiates it from previous HoMie clothing?”
Marcus: “I guess our impact is what differentiates us from almost every other streetwear brand, but it’s super important to be relevant, on-trend and have a good product to keep people engaged”.
“Our upcoming range is inspired by the Olympics. Too bad the games have been cancelled… I guess now it’s a homage collection. The core values of the Olympics are EXCELLENCE – meaning doing the best we can. RESPECT and FRIENDSHIP which really resonates with me and our core values as a business. Plus who doesn’t love vintage style sportswear and graphics!?”
Lucy: “Unfortunately, the issue of homelessness stretches beyond Australia. For those people reading this article in other parts of the globe, what advice would you give to them for how they can make a difference in their local communities?”
Marcus: “Just acknowledge that people experiencing homelessness exists, a smile or a chat can go a long way. Get involved with a local charity, or if your time-poor, support those charities or social enterprises that are supporting people experiencing disadvantage”.
If you are just as impressed with HoMie as I am, you can visit their website to find out more about the team or to shop their collections. On the 4th of May, HoMie x Champion will be launching, so keep an eye out for this too. For those based in Melbourne, pop down to there store once the pandemic is over.
HoMie, 2/296 Brunswick St, Fitzroy VIC 3065, Australia
On a concluding note, what struck me the most about meeting Marcus was how humble he was. For me, this epitomised the wholesome essence of this brand and why they deserve public recognition. The HoMie team have selflessly dedicated themselves to a social cause they believe in and I would presume this is why the interns have been so successful. Although I have not met the rest of the HoMie team, if they are anything like Marcus, I can assure you that they are an amazing group of people. Thank you for your hard work and best of luck to all of the interns involved in the programme.
All of the photography in this article is by Marcus Crook.