Reverse Social Decay
by Diana Kiernander
When Catriona Balfe stepped out wearing an outfit by The Blankfaces at Paris Fashion Week earlier this year, it was a sign of how important the west-end social enterprise have quickly become. The label wants to end homelessness and reverse social decay. Westender meets their founder to find out more.
Last Friday night, I left work late, got stuck in traffic, missed a drinks reception for a shop opening, and remembered, a bit too late, that I was going to stop at the nail bar in Partick and get new glitter nails ahead of the weekend. But it didn’t matter. It had already started raining and was freezing cold outside. I’d decided anyway that I wanted to stay home, binge watch Netflix, drink cheap, fizzy wine and get cosy indoors. Getting home, I found my house was, as ever, full of too many teenagers, arguing over hair straighteners, taking selfies and sorting out their fake ID to get into the clubs later. (Shsh! She’s nearly old enough and growing up in Scotland, we’ve all done it!)
I’ve written before, on these pages, about how much I love the chaos and noise that makes my west-end flat feel so special. But, after hearing the inspiring story behind The Blankfaces, an independent clothing label and social enterprise, set up by Gerard McKenzie Govan, that aims to stop homelessness, it makes me cherish the madness that goes on inside my own home every day, a little bit more.
Socially Conscious Clothing
This socially conscious gem burst onto the independent street and sportswear scene in 2020, with its first collection of t-shirts, hoodies and sweats that really had something to say. The brand quickly became beloved of all the cool kids around the west-end, looking to support a label that looked beyond the faceless persona of people living on the street. Suddenly lockdown was a time to really see the homeless group that were long-forgotten.
The pieces are all designed by rough sleepers, with the support of an in-house artist, who himself has experienced homelessness. Classics from that time live on today and the supercool designs capture the unapologetic hyper-reality of a life lived on the street.
Designs to Make a Difference
The brilliant ‘Home’ hoody / tee was designed by Danny, a rough sleeper and street poet who lived under a bridge in Manchester for 6 years and washed his clothes in the river flowing through the city. A photograph of the exact bridge made it onto the bestselling design. These heartbreaking visual stories exist to give a voice to the forgotten.
Elsewhere, the NFA (no fixed abode, if you don’t know) is a simple white tee with those letters masterfully positioned across a photo of the infamous, now defunct, Bellgrove hostel hotel in Gallowgate. Clothing like this shows the label isn’t scared to obliterate the well-worn myth that homeless people are wasters. Instead, it shows The Blankfaces as a clothing label that has always stood up for people broken by unfair societal systems and it’s always been ready to take bold and direct action to end homelessness.
Pieces like ‘Money Over People,’ by Budi. and ‘ID Heavyweight,’ by Ste capture the harrowing, true life trauma straight from the rough-sleeping beating heart. The artists here are uniquely placed to depict how the world might look when you don’t routinely have anywhere to go.
All the design narratives on display at The Blankfaces, at the flagship west-end store and the second outlet at the Buchanan Galleries in town, cut through the fashion noise to really celebrate the inimitable strength and rawness of a life lived in the shadows.
The upcoming projects I get to chat with Gerard about are really set to scorch the stereotypes around homelessness. By now, we are all hopelessly well-versed in hearing on the news all about rising foodbank demands and spiralling supermarket costs. It’s all so goddamn gloomy!
Fortunately, the good folk at The Blankfaces are getting creative with how we have come to see the homelessness, poverty and foodbank experience. Gerard today is talking Tuck Shops and not food voucher handouts. And, come on, everybody knows Tuck Shops are cool! If I was Marie Kondo, this would be sparking joy! All hail the makeshift confectionary cupboard, selling 10p crisps and Chomp bars at breaktime. It’s giving me serious flashbacks to being 15 again, hanging out the back of the beloved falling down English department at my old High school. All Tuck Shops are cool but The Blankfaces one will be even cooler, cause it means you’re a shit-hot t-shirt, hoody and accessories designer who happens to have to hang out on street corners a lot!
More Than a Shop
Other plans are afoot too. The food kitchen behind the curtain at the back of the shop, is getting extended soon, meaning more quirky, cool dining vibes are coming to this west-end experience. The space will also continue to be used for creative classes and workshops, like the ones where the clothing designs were first developed. In this space, people think about their life stories and the unique journey they’ve been on. It sparks an idea for a t-shirt, hoody or accessory design and that piece gets made, using sustainable, ethical fabrics. There are different price points, including an organic and standard range, to suit a spectrum of budgets. When any of the pieces are sold, the person whose story inspired the piece gets a direct percentage of the sale. All remaining profits go into grassroots charities at the end of the year.
Where it Began
Curiously, it is McKenzie Govan’s own life story that probably sparked the whole ethos of doing something so big and brilliant as this to stop homelessness in the first place. His Mum and Dad had spent some time living and working in Africa and when back in Ayr, his Mum opened a small hotel where she housed the local homeless community right there. He has fond memories of growing up, surrounded by a proud lot of people who had simply fallen on hard times.
Today, he has never forgotten the special lesson that this taught him and how he’s always been able to see the human being behind a lot of difficult life circumstances. His Mum has left behind a beautiful legacy that he carries on with the work here. It honours her memory.
The shop appears small but is crammed full of purpose, kindness and kickass clothes. Go see for yourself.
Fashion with a social conscience.
427 Gt Western Road, G4 9JA
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