Homeless clothing line takes heat for 'making it look like it's sexy to sleep outside'

A Toronto brand has found itself at the centre of a social media uproar for its Homeless clothing line. We talked to several people living on the street to get their opinion.

Brand's co-founder says they plan to donate 40% of proceeds to street youth organizations

'They're trying to make it look like it’s sexy to sleep outside,' said Jason Smith, who is currently homeless himself. 'It's not.' (Homeless Toronto)

Standing outside the Good Shepherd shelter, Jason Smith pulls on a cigarette and scrolls through photos of $50 sweatshirts and $135 hoodies branded with the word Homeless.

He pauses at an image of a woman reclining against a mattress that's propped up against a garage, then shakes his head.

"They're making it look like it's sexy to sleep outside," he says. "And it's not sexy at all."

Jason Smith, 30, says he believes the clothing line 'glorifies' homelessness. (CBC)

Smith, 30, is currently homeless himself. He says he's a drug addict.

And he also says he was disgusted by a new Toronto clothing brand dubbed Homeless that's come under fire on social media for what's been seen as exploiting those who actually live in shelters and on the street.

"They're glorifying homelessness, they're making it look like it's a cool way to live," he says. "You're sitting out here and you're cold and you're hungry and there's nothing to do so you do drugs or you start drinking."

If the clothing and images were solely to raise awareness or funds for homeless organizations, Smith says he might feel a little more comfortable.

But then he looks at them again and shakes his head a second time.

Charitable intentions

The clothing line, however, brands itself as being built on the idea of giving back. 

Its website says that it plans to donate 40 per cent of its proceeds to youth homeless organizations in Toronto. It noted, too, that those involved with the brand launched it because several of the employees have experienced homelessness themselves.

Co-founder Trevor Nicholls says the company had good intentions. He's 27, says he doesn't have a "permanent place of residence now" and also spent some time living out of his car after he lost everything on a business deal.

The clothing line's co-founder said the brand will donate 40 per cent of its proceeds to organizations supporting homeless youth. (Homeless Toronto)

"Based on my own experience, recognizing how difficult it is sometimes to get by, I know how much of a difference even a little bit of help can make," he said. 

The clothing line officially launched about two weeks ago. After its first sale, he said that he and other staff bought supplies and then handed out care packages to homeless youth that included water bottles, toothbrushes and hand sanitizer. 

But neither he nor anyone on his staff contacted Eva's Place — the homeless support organization the website lists as the likely recipient of 40 per cent of the company's proceeds.

No firm partnership

Alanna Scott is in charge of fundraising at Eva's Place and told CBC Toronto that she only heard about Homeless and its intentions when she was contacted by the media.

She spoke with Nicholls on Wednesday afternoon. While Scott says she told him she's happy to talk about future ideas, they don't plan to be partners with Homeless.

"It really is making light of a very serious situation," she says. "There are 2,000 youth who are experiencing homelessness on any given night [and] we would want not to exploit them, but support them."

Others in the support community shared similar views on Instagram and Twitter, including advocate and street nurse Cathy Crowe.

A different perspective

Lloyd Daley, however, feels differently.

He thinks Eva's Place should have considered that the campaign would bring in critical funding, he told CBC Toronto.

Daley described himself as currently homeless. But he says he wouldn't be offended to see someone who clearly wasn't in his situation wearing a hoodie that proclaimed they were.

"I say, if it can sell, if it can make money, if it can help the homeless, then I'm all for it."

If the brand were solely trying to profit off of someone's poverty, Daley says he'd feel differently.

The Homeless clothing line in Toronto sparked controversy online this week, but its founders say they genuinely want to give back. (Homeless Clothing)

Nicholls says he accepts that the clothing line has created controversy on social media — and he says it's fine that Eva's Place doesn't want to partner with them.

"If you don't like what we're doing and you don't like our clothes, I mean we highly encourage anybody else to go give to Eva's or to any of the other organizations directly," he says. "I think that's the important thing here."

With files from Nicholas Boisvert