Raising the Roof creates streetwear to tackle youth homelessness

Though the topic is unpopular, a new campaign take cues from an industry that has sometimes exploited a growing issue in Canada.


A new campaign from Raising the Roof (RTR), a national homelessness prevention non-profit, taps into a trend in fashion to shine light on the crisis of youth homelessness in Canada.

According to research conducted by RTR and creative agency Courage, 20% of Canada’s homeless population are kids. This grim statistic is often overlooked in the discussion of homelessness, which has “led to apathy across our communities,” according to Tom Kenny, chief strategy officer at the agency.

“Despite homelessness being one of the significant issues that faces Canadians, it’s also one where Canadians don’t have the full picture,” Kenny tells strategy. “When Canadians picture a homeless person, it’s someone who is older, transient and roofless. The notion of centreing this work on youth homelessness is it’s a disruptive way to bring attention to an important issue: 7,000 youths face homelessness in Canada every day, and kids are one of the fastest-growing demographics facing these challenges.”

Enter RTR’s new campaign: “Streetswear by RTR.” The campaign takes an unorthodox approach to the topic by challenging the fashion industry, which long ago co-opted materials such as garbage bags and duct tape into designs it calls “homeless chic,” with a new line of children’s clothing designed to help homeless youth survive the streets.

The line includes a parka that unravels into a sleeping bag, a poncho that can double as a weatherproof tent, shoes that protect kids from broken glass and needles commonly found in alleyways, cargo pants that can be padded with cardboard to make lying on concrete and benches a little less uncomfortable, and a teddy that accepts card-tapped payments for panhandling.

The goal of the collection is to “spark outrage and drive awareness to create real change,” says Steve Ierullo, ACD at Courage.

“For all Canadians, homelessness is much closer than they think. During the past two years we’ve been navigating the rising cost of living. Inflation, house prices, and more,” Ierullo tells strategy. “235,000 Canadians are estimated to experience homelessness annually, and that’s what drove us in this campaign. Unless Canadians experience this directly and it hits close to home, it won’t connect with them.”

RTR_Courage_Streetswear_2But the collection also aims to be respectful of the community it hopes to build awareness for. It doesn’t want to commit the same sins as the fashion industry at large has, by “appropriating a growing epidemic happening on our streets,” says Hemal Dhanjee, also an ACD with the agency.

“Many of us who worked on this campaign don’t have lived experience with homelessness. For us, it was important to have the tight relationship with RTR, who are experts in this and have been creating hybrid solutions over the years,” he adds. “They have well-proven expertise to draw from, and there are people within the organization who have themselves experienced homelessness. Having that relationship was a huge asset.”

Though the collection is not meant for mass production, Toronto-based designers Lauren Novak and Caitlin Wright did work with RTR and Courage to bring it to life. The collection made its public debut on Nov. 11 at Fashion Art Toronto, and will continue to live on social, digital video, and donated OOH, which steers toward a microsite with paid media managed by M&K. No Fixed Address handled PR for the campaign.

The microsite is a fundraising call for action, where Canadians can purchase one of the charity’s toques to help end homelessness in Canada.