In 2012, The Buckaroo Leatherworks founder Ken Van Der Water passed away after a battle with cancer. His daughter Tanya has continued his legacy and helped take Buckaroo to a place beyond his wildest dreams. But every second generation family business owner feels the pressure to fill the big boots of their predecessor. And while Tanya has risen to the occasion, her ability to connect with others both inside and outside of the industry remains one of hers and the business’s greatest strengths. The idea of giving back is important to her and while reflecting on this, we sat down with 2 Aussie chippies to find out why they decided to give up the tools and instead sell fancy shirts.
\ ED ROSS AND DAN ALLEN, CO-FOUNDERS OF TRADEMUTT
Where: QLD, Australia
So what’s the personal story that led you to create Trademutt?
Dan: Ed and I met on a building site in Brisbane and started to work for a builder on the same day. I came from Western Sydney and Ed came from Longreach QLD. So we came from different places but found we had identical senses of humour and were both smart asses. It’s a real love story! We got on like a house on fire and worked really hard as carpenters for a long time. In October 2016 I got a phone call from a mate who told me that one of our best mates had just killed himself. He had just gotten into a mature aged apprenticeship and was due to start a few days after he took his life. So that was the start of the mental health side of things for me personally. When we learnt about social enterprise and looked into how we could make it work with our funky workwear idea, it just made sense. So on all our work shirts, it has Y.N.W.A. My mate was a diehard Liverpool Football Supporter so it stands for “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. So this speaks really well to the idea of mental health.
There’s a bit of a trojan horse element to what you are doing. So what came first, the shirts or the message?
Ed: Well the shirts have to come first, but obviously they were both there in the beginning. There’s lots of people out there raising awareness about mental health but it’s not working so our idea of getting blokes to wear a funky shirt while working and then having an underlying message behind it, is just normalising the message. So the more people can see the shirts, the more it just becomes a normalised thing.
The trades industry as a whole is often criticised for creating the stereotype of the macho male. How is Trademutt reshaping this stereotype through workwear?
Ed: We’re reshaping the way people wear workwear and allowing them to be more selective in what they want to wear to work. And in doing so we are trying to educate blokes about looking after their mental health basically. So if we can use these shirts to create a generational shift and saying you can treat your workmates with empathy and compassion rather than hate and anger and create a more sustainable workplace where people are happy to come to work. This will lead to less problems with people having with depression and anxiety and it’s a funner place to be.
Dan: As Australians one of our greatest stories that we have built our culture around is the Anzac tradition. The Anzacs showed ingenuity, innovation and problem-solving skills. When they were faced with a problem they figured out how to overcome it and it’s a legend and a legacy that our country is built on. But the problems in front of us now revolve around mental health. We need to address it, fix it and move past it. What you see with that is when we can address our mental health we can be better role models. So we are using an alternative and fun approach to help make the change happen.
“COMPASSION STEMS FROM UNDERSTANDING AND UNDERSTANDING STEMS FROM EDUCATION.”
Your trailblazing element is compassion. This is a rare word thrown around the industry. How is this approach being received?
Dan: The idea of compassion has been received unbelievably well. More and more people are afraid to talk about it, but no one gets through unscathed. Everyone has or knows someone who has had a struggle with mental health. The whole point of the shirts is that they are a conversation starter. It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s working but we hear about people having the conversation with randoms, people are having real conversations. And when people talk to us and we tell them about the shirts people are really taken aback and immediately there’s a story about someone’s experience. That level of trust built on having a real conversation is rare because we live in a world where everyone is glued to their phones. So it’s one of the greatest things for us to know we can facilitate that.
“PEOPLE WHO TAKE LEAVE FOR MENTAL HEALTH SITUATIONS OFTEN TAKE 5 OR MORE DAYS AS OPPOSED TO SOMEONE WHO TAKES TIME OFF WHEN THEY ARE SICK WITH A COLD.”
The period of absence is far greater and from an employer’s point of view, it’s very costly. We are trying to encourage this push for people to take better care of their mental health in the workplace.
Ed: We encourage employers to take better care of their staff and also for men and women to get a better education of their mental health whenever they want. A proportion of the profits go towards TIACS (This is a conversation starter) Foundation of our profits go into a fund so people can access help when they want. It’s not counselling, its there for people to use it, no questions asked, and that’s what we are facilitating.
There’s lots of chatter about the impacts that the FIFO culture has had in terms of actually shaping the next generation. Some real issues have been born out of this. Have you had conversations about this in your travels around the country?
Ed: Well it’s a major problem. While we don’t like to work off statistics, FIFO workers have a far increased chance of suicide. But basically we are bringing it right back to educating people to take better care of themselves. If people have created their FIFO position thinking that finance and having all the bells and whistles for the missus and kids to make them happy but them themselves aren’t happy, then you need to re-evaluate everything. Success is being happy with yourself and B being happy with the life you’re living.
Dan: People definitely get caught up in mistaking having lots of money for happiness. Sometimes though the opportunity costs of having a good pay packet means you may be disconnected from your family and friends. You know there are guys out there in their 30’s that have heaps of jobs going on and lots of revenue but they’ve also got lots of stresses with clients that don’t pay. But for the guys that might only have one job going on at a time, their quality of life is a lot higher because there’s less stress, more family time and more happiness. What I think it comes down to is actually prioritising in your life what is important to you.
“It also comes down to the old saying
‘If only the young would know,
if only the old would do.’”
One thing we here at Buckaroo pride ourselves on is our ability connect to others both in and outside of the industry. What are your thoughts on connection and how do you reach out to others?
Ed: We are all over social media. It allows us to create a network where anyone who wants to access us and get more information can do so. Our point of difference compared to others who are raising awareness about mental health is that we have something tangible. So you buy a shirt, you wear the shirt once a week and people are going to continue to see it so much so that’s it gonna put the message back into everyone’s faces. The amount of people who have reached out not just for the story but the meaning behind it and the creativity in the work shirts has allowed us to meet some really amazing people.
Dan: 6 months ago, we were wearing our Buckaroo tool belts swinging a hammer. We worked 7 days a week to be able to fund our idea of the workshirts. If you had told us that today we would be visiting Buckaroo or some of the trades colleges we’ve been invited to, we would never have believed it. If we hadn’t put ourselves out there and taken a stand for something we believe in, we never would have met half the people we have. For us we are both people people and so this is right up our alley. We don’t know how all of this has happened but it’s happened and we love it!