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.
â€œI was walking 20 shows that week,â€ she recalls. â€œIt was a big week for me. But, Iâ€™d also had this other idea.â€
By the end of the week, sheâ€™d made global headlines: not only for the catwalk shows sheâ€™d starred in, but for the political stir sheâ€™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 weekâ€™s hottest events were studded with T-shirts proclaiming â€˜Sexism sucksâ€™, â€˜Reject racismâ€™, â€˜Cull hate not sharksâ€™, â€˜Jesus was a refugeeâ€™ and, one of her personal favourites, â€˜Keep Tassieâ€™s bush, I keep mineâ€™, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the deforestation of the Apple Isle.
â€œIt got a huge amount of coverage, not only locally but also globally,â€ says Ollie, â€œI didnâ€™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.â€
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 â€“ each one painted personally.
Three years on, the 26-year-old has embraced the â€œannoying slashieâ€ 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.
â€œI started House of Riot for people like me,â€ says Ollie. â€œWhen I was growing up I wasnâ€™t political. My friends werenâ€™t political. My family wasnâ€™t very political. My generation does get a lotÂ of slack for being apathetic but honestly I donâ€™t think weâ€™re taught how to engage in politics, which is a real problem.â€
The shift for Ollie occurred when came out as gay at the age of 17.
â€œI think it was a combination of my age and stepping outside of the world I was living in,â€ she says. â€œWhen 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.â€
For the full article, purchase yourÂ copy of Collective Hub Issue 43 here.