Australian streetwear brand tackles youth homelessness one hoodie at a time

After costs, including rent and salaries for the team of eight full-time employees (plus part-time employees, contractors and casuals), the profits are invested in a training program for the homeless. which includes an eight-month paid internship at the HoMie store. , plus a TAFE qualification in retail operations and personal development assistance. Since its launch in 2017, some of the program’s roughly 30 graduates have gone on to work at companies such as Apple, Cotton On Group, and Jetstar.

“We can be a launching pad, we increase foundational skills, confidence and aspirations.”

Not everyone who starts the program ends; problems range from mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction to lack of access to transportation and child care. Pearce, who serves as HoMie’s chief executive, is quick to say this shouldn’t be seen as a failure – on the part of the students or the organization.

“We are not the complete solution, but we are an essential piece of the puzzle,” he says. “We can be a launching pad, we increase foundational skills, confidence, aspirations… There is a lot of trauma. The fact that many of them can even make it to this place is quite impressive.

Located a few steps from the cafes of Fitzroy’s gentrified Brunswick Street, HoMie HQ is a cavernous, drafty industrial space, far from the shiny and sleek offices of some nonprofits. Boxes of clothes ready to be sent to the store or to online customers are stacked haphazardly in one room, while in the other the team works quietly, surrounded by subtle – and not-so-subtle – reminders of the goal. of the brand. Posters on the walls display appalling statistics – one in 200 Australians will experience homelessness at some point – while elsewhere there are paintings by artist Jamie Morrison depicting homeless people from other cities in the world. world.

An upcycled bomber from the Reborn range.

Social mission aside, Crook carries the creative burden of transforming HoMie from an artisan brand of benefactors into a respected fashion brand. In such a saturated market, even the most value-oriented consumer is spoiled for choice, which means HoMie cannot trade on morality alone; it has to have the design chops to drive sales, which in turn fund the “real” work of the retail program. Crook says balancing HoMie’s fashion ambition with its original goal, to help reduce youth homelessness, is “the constant challenge… We need to stay on top of the trends. If the product isn’t good, people won’t come back. “

Still, it looks like HoMie’s mission to “make benevolence cool” is paying off, thanks to a post-COVID-19 leap in “mindful consumption.”

A range of recycled bomber jackets (each unique, produced under the Reborn sub-brand) on display at the Melbourne Fashion Festival in March this year challenged clichés associated with social enterprises – home-woven, chintzy, old-fashioned – and stands out from the most established. brands. The following month, the brand was recognized for much more than its wellness branch, winning a Victorian Premier’s Design Award. Despite these achievements, impostor syndrome looms large.

“We always feel a little out of place, like, what are we doing here?” said Pearce.

“It’s an honor to the aesthetic created by Marcus. It is a very inclusive, “ talking ” brand, it is an excellent vector towards so many things. He’s standing on his own two feet, that’s legitimate. We got something special, we got brands knocking on our doors [to partner with us]. “

Indeed, HoMie recently partnered with American streetwear brand Champion on a range of sweatshirts that feature both brands’ logos in a bespoke embroidered design.

Yet there is no time to rest. The simultaneous end of JobKeeper and the Victorian government’s moratorium on residential evictions at the end of March has raised fears among experts of a new wave of homelessness. For Crook and Pearce, that means HoMie needs to increase both sales and funding to serve more customers through its free shopping days and, ideally, its training program.

In 2019-2020, HoMie’s revenue was around $ 1.3 million and is currently split around 60:40 between sales and philanthropic contributions (with a little support from the federal government). HoMie employees all earn salaries, but Pearce points out that they are well below the market rate, even compared to other nonprofits. One of its goals over the next few years is to achieve financial self-sufficiency as an organization.

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“We’re not a very profitable business yet,” says Pearce. “We are always trying to build a plane while it takes off. We’re about to really break through … If we can get more young people to find jobs and a place of self-sufficiency, we can solve this problem [of homelessness] … this is an exciting challenge for us.

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