A fashionable statement about youth homelessness

Who: Raising the Roof, with Courage for strategy and creative, Undivided Creative for production (directed by Justin Abernathy), M&K for paid media, and No Fixed Address for PR.

What: “Streetswear by RTR,” a five-piece concept clothing line for youth living on the street. It’s being presented like a fashion brand, although the imagined items are more about surviving on the street than looking good—like a poncho that can used as a tent.

When & Where: The campaign launched last week (Nov. 11) during Fashion Art Toronto, while creative promoting the concept clothing, including a 60-second spot, is running across social, digital video, and donated OOH.

Why: Raising the Roof stands out among Canadian non-profits for its long history of embracing bold campaigns to raise awareness about homelessness, but still has to work hard to overcome public apathy about the problem.

“We knew we had to chart a different course that would force people to pay attention,” said Tom Kenny, chief strategy officer at Courage, in a release.  This campaign is focused on youth because as many as 7,000 kids sleep on the street on any given night, and youths account for 20% of the homeless population. “[T]o break perceptions and drive impact, we chose that as our focus for this year’s campaign.”

How: While not actually available for purchase, the Streetswear clothing is meant to get people thinking and talking about youth homelessness, which has become an inspiration for fashion designers in recent years.

“[T]he term ‘homeless chic’ has been used to describe fashion collections or an emerging trend, whether it be garbage bags sold for thousands of dollars or high-end clothing items held together with duct tape,” said Hemal Dhanjee, associate creative director at Courage. “Ultimately these trends are appropriating a growing epidemic that impacts millions of people.”

The five items in the imaginary collection are:

  • Pavement Parka—a winter coat that unravels into a full sized kid’s sleeping bag;
  • Cardboard Cargos—kids can pad their pockets with cardboard so its easier to lie on concrete and benches;
  • Tent-o-Poncho—a wearable, weatherproof shelter that can be attached to subway grates to create a heated tent;
  • Kevlar Kicks—shoes made with carbon fibre and kevlar material to protect kids from broken glass and needles; and
  • Tap-Me Teddy—which accepts card-tapped payments, so kids can panhandle in a cashless society.

The 60-second spot opens with the look and feel of a typical youth fast-fashion brand commercial—kids laughing and playfully strutting in the street to show off their clothes. About three-quarters of the way through, the spot changes abruptly: gone are the smiling faces and good lighting, replaced by a young person alone in the doorway of a dark alley at night. “This collection doesn’t exist,” reads the on-screen super, followed by: “Neither should youth homelessness.” It ends with the CTA directing viewers to help raise money by buying one of the charity’s fund-raising toques.

And we quote: “The intention with this concept collection was to spark outrage and drive awareness to create real change, because what’s happening on our streets with the rise of youth homelessness isn’t a trend; it’s a reality.” —Steve Ierullo, associate creative director, Courage

David Brown