Can a catwalk model with a slogan (or seven) really make a difference in the world? Ollie Henderson (this month’s cover star) took matters into her own hands and built a booming social enterprise, one T-shirt at a time.
At Australian Fashion Week three years ago, while most models relaxed in the evenings or stopped by glitzy after-parties, Ollie Henderson was sitting in her hotel hand-painting political slogans onto a hundred blank T-shirts.
“I was walking 20 shows that week,” she recalls. “It was a big week for me. But, I’d also had this other idea.”
By the end of the week, she’d made global headlines: not only for the catwalk shows she’d starred in, but for the political stir she’d created. It was a simple concept: reach out to 100 industry heavyweights, including models, stylists and photographers, with gifts bearing slogans that reflected political and social issues they felt passionate about. The week’s hottest events were studded with T-shirts proclaiming ‘Sexism sucks’, ‘Reject racism’, ‘Cull hate not sharks’, ‘Jesus was a refugee’ and, one of her personal favourites, ‘Keep Tassie’s bush, I keep mine’, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the deforestation of the Apple Isle.
“It got a huge amount of coverage, not only locally but also globally,” says Ollie, “I didn’t realise this but I had kind of organised my first ever protest. It was only meant to be a week-long art project, but then grew into a business.”
Off the back of her successful first foray into activism, Ollie launched the not-for-profit social enterprise House of Riot, through which she sells her T-shirts – each one painted personally.
Three years on, the 26-year-old has embraced the “annoying slashie” label, using her platform in the fashion industry to promote messages that matter.
Twenty per cent of the profits from each T-shirt sold is donated to a charity related to each slogan, including Amnesty International, One Girl Global Cool Foundation.
“I started House of Riot for people like me,” says Ollie. “When I was growing up I wasn’t political. My friends weren’t political. My family wasn’t very political. My generation does get a lot of slack for being apathetic but honestly I don’t think we’re taught how to engage in politics, which is a real problem.”
The shift for Ollie occurred when came out as gay at the age of 17.
“I think it was a combination of my age and stepping outside of the world I was living in,” she says. “When I came out and started to become more engaged with the LGBTIQ community I started to see social injustice around me. Once you have that moment where it clicks you, you start to see it everywhere. It was a tipping point.”
For the full article, purchase your copy of Collective Hub Issue 43 here.