The Brand Radar: HomeLess Made and the importance of products with purpose

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a look at HomeLess Made, a company whose greetings cards, tees and badges showcases artwork from creatives that have experience of homelessness or a mental health condition.

Top Drawer is a tradeshow aimed at retailers in the gift, greetings, interiors and department store sectors. It encompasses a range of companies and categories, and is a good source of new ideas and inspiration – while also being one of the most stylish tradeshows on the circuit!

I attended earlier this month to meet some of our existing licensees, source new contacts and check out emerging trends. As an aside, Top Drawer does a great job of communicating design trends and encouraging new talent. However on this visit, something else caught my eye…

It was a company and initiative with real purpose at its core, and one with design, designers, art and artists at the centre of the enterprise. HomeLess Made is a social enterprise firm created by the Barons Court Project. Barons Court is not far from the Olympia location of Top Drawer, so this was very much a local initiative.

HomeLess Made is a social enterprise created by Barons Court Project which is a homelessness and mental health charity. It is a drop-in centre that prides a range of support services and opportunities for homeless people and those living with mental health issues.

HomeLess Made showcases the work of a collective of artists from the local area who have experience of homelessness or a mental health condition. At Top Drawer the charity presented a range of greetings cards and pin badges featuring artwork created by a number of artists. They also sell t-shirts featuring the artists’ work.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar,

The cards, tees and pin badges are sold commercially, with the proceeds split 50/50 between the artist and the charity. They have been selling directly via the Centre and online previously, but are looking to grow their distribution.

The programme and project was conceived by Barons Court Project director Michael Angus and one of the drivers for it was to help give the artists a sense of achievement, while also nurturing their talent. Michael tells us: “HomeLess Made was set up as we wanted to share our guests’ art. We also wanted the artists to earn and income – and for Barons Court Project to have further funding so we can help more people off the streets.

“The artists have got involved in running stalls, have appeared on TV and radio and have learnt a whole new skillset, but more importantly their confidence and self-esteem have blossomed. We hope that one day our cards will be available in towns and cities across the nation so that together we can end homelessness.”

One of the artists involved in the project – Lui – was quoted as saying: “I wasn’t expecting to achieve or create anything saleable… I really didn’t think people would buy the cards. It makes me feel good and I am very grateful for all of it.”

I met another one of the artists – Guan – at Top Drawer. Guan was helping manage the stand and was dealing with customers. He spoke very eloquently and passionately about his art, the project and his inspiration. One of his designs features trees that have rainbow-coloured leaves and canopies.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar,

He explained that he used to see the trees in his local park when he was homeless and seeing them come back into leaf lifted his spirits. His card designs are influenced by this experience. Several of the artists talk about how the use of colour makes them happier and how art has been therapeutic for them.

At the moment six artists have their work featured in the range. They all have distinctive styles and looks, but all show a clear talent and aptitude. Importantly, the process of designing the cards and creating artwork has been beneficial for them and it’s, of course, good to see that there is a commercial purpose behind the project as well.

The art styles are very individual and distinctive – they suit categories like greetings cards but have potential beyond this as well. Thinking about products such as art prints, ceramics and calendars. Of course, the stories behind the art and the artists sets this range apart as well.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar,

It was good to see HomeLess Made at Top Drawer. It was a timely reminder that products with a purpose are increasingly important in the commercial mix, especially when part of the purpose behind them is doing good for the individuals contributing to the creative process.

HomeLess Made is a really good example of a social enterprise firm being effective, but also one that’s aware of the wider commercial world and is making strides to connect itself commercially. I am hoping that Top Drawer was a success for HomeLess Made and it helps them help more people.

It was a very uplifting meeting and I’m glad to have made this tradeshow connection.

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