Darwin House | Urban list
It’s strange to think that a few t-shirts, bucket hats, tea towels and water bottles could really mark serious social change.
“I started House of Darwin to tell the story of my homeland through the perspective of a true local and wanted to do as much good as possible along the way.”
He’s Shaun Edwards, a man from Larrakia on the Northern Territory’s saltwater shores and the brains of House of Darwin, a for-profit clothing company that reinvests its profits into social programs in remote indigenous communities. Edwards has a pretty distinct perspective on the land, having bounced between a few places throughout his childhood, including Gunbalanya in Arnhem Land, Mandorah and Darwin. He suggests exploring Bawaka in East Arnhem Land, if you haven’t already, ‘Bawaka’ translating to ‘heaven on earth’.
When it comes to doing good, Edward’s has virtually created the gold standard for social enterprise. House of Darwin is a relatively new company, but it has already marked a whole new era in the world of grassroots change.
Edward’s drove 3,000 miles north, through dirt roads and mining towns, in his beloved 1990s Toyota Cruiser ‘Olive’, all to deliver $20,000 worth of sports equipment, on behalf of House of Darwin, in remote areas of the Northern Territory. The label has also launched a collaboration with Yeo Haus, a true sweetness boutique from South Australia, whose proceeds will go directly to Hoop Dreams in the Northern Territory to renovate a basketball court in Minmarama, an indigenous community. from Darwin.
In addition to this, House of Darwin has also partnered with PASSPORT and Build Up Skateboarding in late 2021 with the aim of offering skateboarding workshops on Tiwi and Warruwi Islands.
“Watching the kids gravitate towards a new sport was definitely a proud moment,” Edwards says.
That’s a pretty big feat considering House of Darwin only found its feet during the early stages of COVID-19. Before that (and you might have clocked it already), Edwards was already making headlines in a completely different way.
“I was lucky to get drafted when I was 16,” he says.
“At the age of 23 I had already spent seven years in the AFL system. My love for the game had waned and my thirst for new ideas and cultures was growing so I decided to take the plunge and take my retirement with the aim of creating my own brand where I could make an impact in the place I loved the most, the Northern Territory.”
In terms of starting the social enterprise, House of Darwin’s greatest asset (its remote location) was also its greatest obstacle.
“We are constantly dealing with shipping issues that have almost derailed us a few times. Shipping is the most frustrating thing we have to deal with,” says Edwards.
“Starting from scratch in a remote location certainly has its challenges. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done, but also one of the most rewarding. I feel like my biggest takeaway is that the right person will show up when you need them. Keep asking questions and making connections because help is always around the corner, and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything.
A rather significant turning point in the creation of House of Darwin came when Edwards teamed up with Dan Single, co-founder of denim brand Ksubi.
“I met ‘Dangerous Dan’ on some previous work opportunities and got to see firsthand the energy and creative wonder he possessed,” says Edwards.
“I learned so much about Dan, including his sincere care for his friends and his ability to give time to so many people around. In terms of work, he taught me the importance of getting it right and to have a vision of everything we do. I’m sure I’m not the only one to say that meeting Dan Single was one of the highlights of my life.
From there, Edwards was able to forge House of Darwin’s first door opening as he worked his way into the annual Darwin Street Art Festival, a celebration of murals that has taken place every year since 2017. House of Darwin’s resident graphic designer and illustrator Darwin, Luna Tunes, painted a gigantic building in Darwin’s CBD that read “Luna Tunes X House Of Darwin” and thus, House of Darwin was officially launched.
Luna Tunes, also known as Liam Milner, is pretty much the big boss when it comes to graphics and illustration at House of Darwin, but his talent goes way beyond that. He’s also a full-time artist at Aime Mentoring, sports his own virtual store, runs art workshops, dabbles in clothing design, the list goes on. He is also the mastermind behind the very nifty House of Darwin website.
“I was very lucky to not only have a great friendship with Liam, but also a great working relationship,” Edwards says.
“We rarely go back and forth on a final design. He nails it every time.
At the heart of House of Darwin is an outpouring of creativity and spirit to share corners of the Northern Territory without the big catchphrases and filtered travel imagery you might find under the tight grip of big tourist organisations. There are no vibrant drone footage or sunset vistas, but rather shots of the team behind Yolngu Radio, home of The Burwo Show (“burwo” meaning wildflower) and hosts Keisha Gurruwiwi, Jean Gurruwiwi and Roberta Dhurrkay; and historic photos of local legends from the 1950s and 1960s. It’s from here that the essence of House of Darwin’s clothing and textiles really begins to take shape.
“The process usually begins with a trip to an area,” Edwards explains.
“Then I will message Luna Tunes about what I saw or what happened and then the design phase will begin. We source our organic blanks from a few suppliers and then they are screen printed here in Australia , which is pretty cool. We are in the process of trying to become 100% Aussie, which is a lot harder than it looks, but something that will be worth it when it comes to fruition .
“Darwin is a very short-lived community,” adds Edwards.
“About a quarter of our community comes and goes every year, so with that the story of what Darwin is and how he is portrayed changes.”
It’s something quite unique to House of Darwin too, if anything, the groovy clothing with printed designs of Stuart Highway, nostalgic sketches of the Darwin City street directory and sticker packs with phrases like “respect your elders”, are almost an afterthought. There’s an ongoing photo diary on social media and the House of Darwin website with grainy photographs of Mparntwe (Alice Springs), Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land pinned all over which speaks pretty loudly of the core brand message.
“It’s 2022 and people want to know where their money is going,” Edwards says.
“I think the future of business is social enterprise, period. It’s hard to imagine that in 100 years, companies would operate without social impact.
With House of Darwin absolutely on the fashion and social enterprise highway, we had to ask Edwards if he had any words of wisdom for those considering building a brand from scratch like he has. made.
“Start, how many times do you hear someone say I have this crazy idea and never do anything about it? You’re going to die anyway, just try.
You can buy House of Darwin here, or if you’re in the field, check out its bricks and mortar at 15/35 Cavenagh Street in Darwin.
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Image credit: Darwin House