Toronto clothing brand accused of 'exploiting the homeless'
Published Thursday, February 23, 2017 6:05PM EST
A Toronto clothing line facing allegations of “glorifying poverty” and “exploiting the homeless” for selling items that are branded with the words "homeless" and "change please" says it’s actually trying to help people in need.
Picture from www.homelesstoronto.com
In an interview with CTVNews.ca, co-founder Trevor Nicholls, 27, said a goal of the brand is to help eradicate poverty.
“When we started this brand, we decided that we really wanted to work on a project that was giving back to the community and something that was more for a cause, rather than just for a profit,” Nicholls said.
NEGATIVE REACTION ONLINE
Instead, the company has been under fire online with many accusing it of taking advantage of those who are suffering.
Picture from www.homelesstoronto.com
Many users blasted the company saying it was using poverty as a means for profit.
Others urged the company to create clothing without using the terms "homeless" or "change please" and then donate the proceeds to charity. Some said the company should abandon ship altogether.
“We expected some controversy around the branding, but nothing like this,” said Nicholls.
Honestly, I don't know what to say. https://t.co/xnUODOFrpO— CathyCrowe (@cathyacrowe) February 22, 2017
But Nicholls says many people have misinterpreted the company’s intentions and adds that many employees, including himself, have actually dealt with homelessness.
He said he became homeless two years ago after a company he was running at the time went out of business.
“I lost a massive amount of money in a short period of time in a series of unfortunate events,” Krolls said. “I ended up losing my house, my apartment, had to let all my staff go and shut down my business.”
Nicholls said he still has no fixed address to this day and it was that experience that helped motivate him to create Homeless Toronto.
NO FIRM PARTNERSHIPS IN PLACE
As a result of Nicholl's own experience with homelessness, the company has pledged to donate 40 per cent of its proceeds to charities that support homeless youth and has already started handing out care packages on the streets of Toronto, Nicholls says.
On its website, Homeless Toronto singles out Eva’s Initiative for Homeless Youth as a charity of choice. But Eva’s now says it wants nothing to do with the clothing line.
Alanna Scott, development and campaign director for Eva’s Initiative for Homeless Youth told CTV News that the organization was never contacted by Homeless Toronto.
Scott said she called the group herself, after her organization began fielding media calls about the controversy surrounding the brand.
She added Eva’s has no plans to partner with the brand.
“If we were to set up a partnership relationship with this company or any other, we would need that business to be transparent on the portion of sales that were being donated, we would need the products and the messaging of the business to be consistent with our goals to support the dignity and support for bright futures for youth experiencing homelessness.”
She added the company’s messaging is not reflective of the seriousness or hardships people on the streets experience every day.
“The sweatshirt that says “Homeless” doesn’t say anything beyond that. There’s no social commentary on the seriousness of the situation when someone becomes homeless,” Scott said.
“There’s no commentary on the fact that anyone can find themselves in that situation or anyone can have a family member that could be homeless. They (Homeless Toronto) could go there but they don’t. They’re just using controversy to raise awareness, but awareness about what? It’s a key question that we should all be raising.”
FORGING ON IN THE FACE OF CRITICISM
Despite the criticism, Homeless Toronto said it hopes to still work with Eva’s Initiative for Homeless Youth in the future or any other anti-homelessness group.
Nicholls said, because his company is still in its infancy, it hadn’t contacted the charity yet. And, despite all the controversy, he says he’s glad people are talking about the issue of homelessness.
“If it weren’t so controversial, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now,” he said. “Having this issue so prevalent in people’s minds is really important.”
“Whether people like our brand or not, I could care less,” Nicholls said. “We’re trying to make a small difference and if this controversy can be a catalyst for someone to give back or to give to another organization they think is making a bigger difference to eradicate homelessness, then that’s all we care about.”