ManiQ&A with Ellen Jacobsen, Social Impact Manager at HoMie.

Jun 27 2018

Let us introduce you to Ellen Jacobsen, the woman with totally enviable job satisfaction.

Homie

Meet HoMie, the Melbourne street wear label that’s taking ethical fashion to a whole new level. This amazing brand was purpose built to ‘create unique pathways out of homelessness and hardship.’ And they’re totally killing it.

We sat down with Ellen Jacobsen, the Social Impact Manager at HoMie, and got the down low on how easily hoody’ies can change lives.

Ellen’s coffee of choice: Soy flattie / A-Coffee

Manicolour of choice: Gold disco glitter, Dasher

Homie

What is HoMie?

HoMie is a streetwear social enterprise in Fitzroy. We support young people in Melbourne who are experiencing homelessness or hardship, with 100% of our profits going back into our programmes. We try to contribute to the young person’s journey to self-sufficiency by building confidence and creating employment opportunities, so they can gain experience and move onto bigger and better things after they’ve left us.

Who is behind HoMie?

Some good friends of mine, Nick and Marcus, started HoMie with their friend Robbie. It started as a Facebook page, called Homelessness in Melbourne. They wanted to share the stories of people who were experiencing homelessness, and give them a platform to share their stories. They were talking to people doing it tough in the city and it turned out that the ways these people got into homelessness didn’t match up with public perceptions.. There are all these stigmas around homelessness that relate to drugs, alcohol and victim blaming, but the stories were all about people who were having a really hard time, who’d gone through a crisis or a hard time and didn’t have a support network to help them through it.

There are a lot of stigmas attached to homelessness because people don’t understand the majority of homelessness isn’t visible - it’s young people sleeping in cars, on couches, in overcrowded dwellings, in unstable housing, supported housing and crisis accommodation.. There’s women and children escaping domestic violence, there’s family breakdown, unaffordable housing, job loss.. so many situations that any of us could find ourselves in.

How and where did it start?

After the Facebook page started to get more and more support, we hosted a pop-up shop in the city. It was a street store where people from the public could donate clothing, and people experiencing homelessness and hardship could come and shop for free. The event was a success but we learned a few things. We learned that the event needed to be more private, and the clothing could have been better to improve the shopping experience.. So then HoMie the brand was created, out of a desire to provide brand new clothing for people experiencing homelessness, and to offer them a dignified receiving experience. It’s all about dignity. So we opened our own space, to host people and have them shop for five brand new items of clothing (for free), allowing them to choose according to their own personal style, and using their own sense of agency, which is so important. It makes you feel like a person.

It started with a focus on the clothing and since then we have grown to focus on having a more long term meaningful impact.

What’s your role at HoMie?

I’m the Social Impact manager, so I manage the VIP days and the Pathway Project. I also do styling for our photoshoots every now and then. I started as a volunteer, but as we grew, we all kind of fell into our roles.. This is mine and I love it.

What did you do before HoMie?

I studied philosophy at UoW in Wollongong, which affirmed for me that whatever I did as a career had to be community focussed. Halfway through my degree, I moved to Brazil to do a community development program in Rio, and that’s where I met Marcus.

Working in volunteer tourism in Brazil was eye-opening. It made me realise that even though I thought I was helping, I wasn’t really doing much in terms of sustainable impact.. I mean, I was at a school teaching an English class, and I’m not a teacher? Really, I should have been supporting a teacher in the community to improve their english, instead of me just blowing in for three months, doing my thing and then leaving. You need to recognise where you can actually make a difference and be realistic about the impact you are having by being there. Doing that work really made me realise that in order to help, you need to empower others to be self-sufficient.

What’s the Pathway Project?

It’s our training and employment programme. We offer retail internships to young people who have or are experiencing homelessness or hardship, to work in our store with us in a supported learning environment. HoMie interns work part time at the store and are paid industry standard wages the whole way through. They also study at Knowledge Space to get a Certificate 3 in Retail, so it’s a combination of study and work experience, to learn the skills needed to gain meaningful employment in the future. A lot of young people just need an opportunity to kickstart their lives, and that’s where we can contribute.

Explain your VIP Days.

I connect with different homelessness services in Melbourne and invite their young people to the store to have a dignified receiving experience, to be HoMie VIPS. Each person can shop for five brand new items of clothing for free. We also have hairdressers, beauty services, food and drinks, and we hang out and connect, it’s really fun. It’s an opportunity for us to hopefully support some young people to build their confidence, and also to feel connected to their community, because when they come in they know the day’s been put on because people in our community shop at HoMIe, and want good things for them. We know clothing doesn’t solve homelessness, but man, it gives you a dose of confidence and pride when you get a new look and feel fresh and like ‘yourself’.

Describe the winter collection to us.

Our new winter collection is all made ethically in Melbourne, something we’re super proud of. The range includes amazing tracksuits, long sleeves, comfy hoods. Marcus is HoMie’s designer and creative director and he does an awesome job.

Who is HoMie’s key market?

Everyone! We have a core range that suits so many people. We appeal to people who like streetwear, people who are conscious consumers, people who love comfortable cool basics with a trend piece here and there.

What are your forecasts for the next big trend in fashion?

Hopefully the next big trend continues to be quality, ethical garments as opposed to fast fashion.. People are starting to care more about what they wear, and where it comes from. People in Melbourne at least are happier to pay a little more and think a little more about their clothing now, which is amazing, because they’re choosing fashion that aligns with their beliefs.

What’s HoMie’s proudest achievement to date?

Last year when our first three interns graduated, that was pretty special. Together we had all had this amazing 6 months together and all learnt so much along the way. The graduation ceremony was the highlight of my working experience so far. Our next three interns graduate in a month as well, we are so proud. I get emotional thinking about them!

What’s one message you’d like to give to the entire fashion-buying public?

Where did it come from? Who are you supporting by buying this? How does this garment affect people or the environment? What does it mean to wear it? Does it make you feel proud?

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

I cuddle my cat, Tiger.

Walk us through your beauty routine - any cult products you can't live without?

I don’t have much of a set beauty routine. My gran says “always wash your face and moisturise your hands, face and neck every night”, so I do that. Dr Dennis Gross Peel pads are amazing.

What's the most memorable holiday you ever took?

A few weeks ago I went to New York, for a really good friend’s wedding. There were a whole bunch of us girls, we all went together. It was so beautiful to spend time with these really important women in my life. I kinda felt like I was in a movie the whole time. Smalls Jazz Club and the Comedy Cellar were major highlights.

What’s your favourite way to relax?

Dancing. Either in front of a band, on a dance floor or at a dance class on Brunswick Street on Thursday nights. It’s called Groov3, it’s awesome.

What keeps you up at night?

Thinking about what I want to do at work.

What makes you happy?

My friendships.

Where do you do your best thinking?

In conversation with my people.

Quick fire.

Morning person or night owl? Night owl.

Favourite city in the world? Rio.

What are you binge watching on TV right now? Handmaid’s Tale.

Who are you listening to right now? Cash Savage.

What are you reading right now? Geoff Dyer.

What’s the last item you purchased? A baby pink silk top with white fluff around the collar. It was $8 from Salvos. So good.

What animal do you most identify with? I’m just thinking about all the animals that have red hair. Red fox? Red panda? Red hen?

Favourite bar in Melbourne? The Tote.

Favourite restaurant in Melbourne? Supernormal for a fancy night

Go-to nail colour? Glitter.

Sneakers or heels? Boots.

Lastly, any advice for a young up and comer looking to break into the eco-fashion industry?

Get to know the space you’re working in, and then find the way that you can make a unique, creative and meaningful contribution.