BTS YEAR RECAP
MY TOP 10 HIGHLIGHTS FROM THIS YEAR
What a year it’s been…! I dunno about you but honestly, this has to be one of those years you tell the grandkids about only to find that they can’t begin to wrap their heads around it - much like all of us! 2020 was a year where we weren't allowed to leave the house, travel or see loved ones. It was the year we wore masks (everywhere), washed our hands constantly and ultimately the year where the world seemed to pause.
While I’m a pretty optimistic and hopeful person, even I can say that this year has been really really tough both physically and emotionally. It can be really easy to get all caught up in the difficulties 2020 brought, and so I decided to take some time to really think about what I have to be grateful for this year. Despite the tough times (and there have been many), there were a good few glimmers of hope and moments of joy. As I share some of this year’s highlights with you, I’d love you to take a minute to look beyond the struggles of this year and try to see those flickering glimpses of hope and allow them to propel you into the New Year with fresh optimism and a spring in your step. So here they are - my Top 10 Highlights of this whirlwind year!
At the very very start of this year (before all the lockdowns) a few of us had the opportunity to travel to New York and check out what life in the Big Apple is like for those experiencing homelessness. While the trip was brief, what really stood out to me was the need to help those experiencing homelessness. From the streets of Manhattan to the homeless charities we visited, it was so clear that the bigger the city, the greater the number of people experiencing homelessness. As OutsideIn grows I want to expand where we give and this trip gave me some insight into how to make that possible. It was a highlight because we met some incredible charities that we were able to support later in the year. These include The Legacy Centre and the Bowery Mission, both who focus on the individual needs of a person experiencing homelessness and who are committed to instilling hope in those who need it most. Travelling always reminds me to never assume one way of doing something is the right way or to assume that I know everything. This trip reminded me that I have so much to learn and I’m so thankful that these amazing charities are constantly helping us to actively listen and learn in order to make a lasting impact.
If you’ve been following the Behind The Scenes series, you will have seen how we went from being crammed in a tiny office space to now having ample room to move about without feeling like you’re THAT person on a plane who has to make everyone stand up to get out of their seat. As I look back to the moment where Louis, James and I were deciding whether to just keep what we have or to take the risk and rent additional warehouse space, I’m SO glad that we decided to take that leap. However, when lockdown was announced I honestly thought this is it, this is the worst decision we have made… A few new warehouses with no one to fill them. Great.
Thankfully, when the dust settled and social distancing became the norm, these new work spaces were even more useful than I could have ever imagined as they provided us with the perfect opportunity to grow the team and maintain our special sense of community. One of my favourite things to do when we get a new space/warehouse is to visualise what it could look like. I start imagining the layout, the people who will fill the space and the dreams that’ll be made possible through them. It’s so important to dream and have the courage to then put the plans in place to transform that dream into a reality.
SPEAKING IN SCHOOLS
This is another thing that happened just before lockdown this year. I love speaking, whether it be with friends, family, a person I’ve just sat beside at the airport or to a crowd (I also love listening to other people speak!). At the start of this year we decided to use our platform and company to educate people on understanding homelessness better, why we do what we do and how they can help us to make a difference. For me personally, school was always a place where I struggled to dream or to visualise what was next for my life, and I think for so many kids it’s the same. Many don’t know whether to go to university, to tech or to start working straight away in the real world. I wanted to use this opportunity to speak to those who fall through the educational gap and who are struggling to figure out what to do or how to do it. I loved getting to share the story with hundreds of young people and even getting to return to my old school, Ballymena Academy. The Q&A time at these events is always the best! When lockdown is over, I can’t wait to go back into schools, to help educate and to inspire young people to dream - even and especially those dreams that seem impossible.
KEEP GOING - NEW WOSO
Ok, this is definitely one of my top highlights of the year! When lockdown hit in late March, we had no idea what to do. Sales were dropping, stress was rising and the world was standing still. I remember getting a call from Christabel who was in the events team at the time, to say that there was nobody at our stall at one of the events we participated in. Usually, these stalls would be flooded with people and suddenly they were completely empty. Those first few weeks were really hard mentally, both for myself and for the whole team. We had no idea what the future held and I know so many people will be able to resonate with this frightening uncertainty. This year’s events were something that none of us could ever have planned for and yet here they were impacting every aspect of our lives.
As a company we had a decision to make: Do we keep going or do we look to close shop…? The consensus of the team was that we are built to give back and that giving is the sole reason why we do what we do. Therefore, as risky as it would be, we decided to stay open so that we could continue to give back. And that was that. We were doing it with no turning back! However, we did have to change one thing...our Wear One, Share One.
This giving concept was built to empower society to give back to those experiencing homelessness through human-to-human connection; however, when everything changed, the last thing we wanted was to put anyone at danger of COVID-19. But, since giving is at the heart of everything we do, we got thinking and adapted our original Wear One, Share to something we called ‘WOSO Reimagined’ (WOSO = Wear One, Share One). But what exactly did this look like?
With a change of life came a change of essential needs and so we looked at what ways would be most beneficial to those we were helping. Some of these ways included the donation of hygiene packs, a partnership with Deliveroo which provided thousands of free meals, the renovation of a communal space for people experiencing homelessness, as well as specially put-together care packs sent to both New York and London. Looking back I’m honestly so proud of our Social Impact team for how they innovated our giving this year. The easy option would have been to sit back and press pause until everything returned to normal, but with greater hardship comes a greater need and this need continued to grow as the world and its economy began to plummet.
We may not have all the answers but you, our followers, have helped us to facilitate some of our biggest projects yet and I am so thankful that we can look back not just at the great clothes we dropped, but more importantly, the giving that made a difference to thousands of people around the world. If that’s not something big, then I dunno what is. You can check out more about all the incredible giving projects we were involved in and see how they all went down.
Among the changes to everything else, there have been a lot of new faces this year - you’ve probably already seen glimpses of them from our Instagram stories or our collection videos! When I met Ben Francis, Founder of Gymshark, last year, I asked him what was the main factor that helped him grow. He said that one of the key things was that he invested in people and made a point to delegate responsibility. It was such simple advice but it is still something that sticks with me today. Over the past year we have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to employ additional staff. Growing the team from 7 to 20 has been incredible - challenging, but incredible.
Our team is one of my favourite things about the company. We have so many unique backgrounds, skills, ambitions, and they all come under the one roof of OutsideIn to help further our vision of bringing those on the Outside of society In. However, with working from home now the new norm, I must admit, it has been a bit of a challenge helping new people to feel welcomed the same way we did previously. But, like everything else, we got creative! From going for walks and coffees, to quiz nights and virtual hangouts, the team has done an amazing job at celebrating all those who are new to it! Our team is incredible and I’m honoured to be a part of it. If you want to learn a bit more about our team, check out one of our latest blogs, Don’t Be A Stranger!
NEW MACHINERY = NEW OPPORTUNITIES
Since we began in December 2016, I have always wanted a place where we could embroider and screen-print in-house. For the last few years we have worked with local printers and embroiderers. While this was such a great learning curve, it was definitely time to invest in our own machinery! This was a huge step for us as a company and it helped us to control a lot more within the production process. It also pushed our creativity and innovation to new levels and showed us just how much we can do! The detail these machines can achieve is next level and I know that the Fashion Team is absolutely loving being able to dream up new opportunities that we can look into for next year.
We also get a lot of people asking if we can help them start a brand, make products for them/their business and I’m so excited to share that this is actually something we are now working very hard on! I won’t give too much away, but 2021 is going to have a few announcements that we’re buzzing to share. This highlight is hopefully one we look back on and see how much these machines have changed for us and how they’ve helped us to step up to the next level.
This involved a lot of research, focus groups, finding manufacturers and a lot of late nights. Innovating our collections and diversifying our range of products is always something we want to do year on year. So, this started with the question: What should our new Pom Pom look like?
Our original Pom Poms were definitely what got us off the ground and what got people talking! From the colours to the fluffy lining on the inside, they were a hit that have kept many customers and vulnerable individuals warm amid some of the harshest and coldest winters. While the original model was still doing well, we thought it was time to refresh, innovate and get back to the drawing board.
Hundreds and hundreds of designs later, we finally arrived at what is now our range of 7 new Pom Poms. The team did an amazing job with the new colours! This year we also launched more products and collections than ever before. Whether it was hoodies, fleeces, or hats, we have innovated just about everything. Our mission has been to create the best quality, highest sustainability and most fashionable products possible. We are still on the journey of getting there and this will take a few years, but we are improving product by product and we have loved seeing your reactions to each new drop! We’re so grateful for your support with each item we’ve launched, so a massive thank you to you!
NEW GIVING PRODUCTS
Alongside innovating our products, another big focus was on innovating the products we give to those experiencing homelessness. So, where did we start? With those who distribute them, of course!
We worked closely with our partnering charities and our Street Team to find out exactly what products are most needed and how we can design them to be the most effective and useful for those experiencing homelessness. We quickly got to work and our Fashion Team came up with a range of amazing new thermal beanies and socks. Now that may not sound overly special, but think about this; imagine wearing the same pair of socks for a full week, two weeks, maybe even three. You see, unfortunately this is the reality for a lot of people experiencing homelessness, and so while they may not sound super exciting, these new socks are a game changer. They not only look great, but they are also extra durable, thick and accommodate all shapes and sizes of feet too. As for our new thermal beanies, part of the feedback we received was that the original Tags of Hope meant so much and were so special to those receiving them.
So, this time before we even created the hat, we specifically chose colours that would represent a particular meaning. For example, green signifies new starts and growth, blue signifies respect and dignity, and yellow signifies change and positivity. In just a few weeks of launching, already the feedback on these tags from homeless charities has been so encouraging! This has been a huge accomplishment for OutsideIn this year and seeing the progression of our giving products is high up there as one of my favourite parts of 2020. It has been nothing short of incredible being able to create a special range of products that people experiencing homelessness are proud to wear, that makes them feel good about themselves, and that encourages them about their futures.
WORLD GIVING DAY
For World Giving Day (or Giving Tuesday) this year, we supported the Soup Kitchen London - a charity that is committed to serving up the BEST quality food to those experiencing homelessness right in the heart of London. When we were brainstorming what we could do to celebrate World Giving Day, we wanted to ensure that whoever we worked with would share in our heart for humanising homelessness and looking, really looking, at the stories behind all those who find themselves in a homeless situation. And this is exactly what the Soup Kitchen does. Not only do they provide insanely delicious hot meals, professionally prepared by Chef Lauren Everett, to over 150 people everyday, they also meet other needs such as clothing, medical care, mental support and most importantly, human connection. What really stood out to me was how intentionally and personably they interact with their vulnerable guests and how they know the names, the stories and the difficulties of each person who comes their way.
So, with the help of Instagram’s legendary Chef, What Willy Cook, we created a recipe for the Soup Kitchen as well as a limited-edition line of merch of which all profits went to the Soup Kitchen and its efforts. From customer sales and Oi Team donations alone, we were able to donate over £700! This doesn’t even include donations which were made directly to the Soup Kitchen from the donation button on our website. On top of this, and in true OutsideIn style, we were also so excited to be able to give 400 giving products including socks and thermal beanies which were later used as Christmas gifts for the Soup Kitchen’s annual Christmas lunch. I had the pleasure of visiting the kitchen on December the 4th with another team member, Alexia, to help prepare and give out the food. It was such an incredible day and one that really moved us both.
I also got to spend some time with Alex Brown, Director of the Soup Kitchen, and got to hear him share more of his heart and his vision for the organisation. Unfortunately with COVID-19, the number of guests who visit the kitchen has continued to rise by the day. This has meant added pressure to the kitchen in more ways than one. From finances, to limitations on volunteers and a complete pivot in how they operate, they have certainly gone through a tough time. But even in the midst of so many challenges, they have continued to fight for London’s most vulnerable and through it all, they have given so selflessly and always with a smile.
A huge thanks to Will Hughes (the genius behind What Willy Cook) for coming down and cooking his tasty Miso Tomato Soup recipe! What the Soup kitchen London is doing is unbelievable and showcases a new level of care and support. They deserve a massive shoutout, applause and THANK YOU! We can’t wait to help support them further in 2021!
SIMON COMMUNITY CHRISTMAS GIVING
Last but not least, my final highlight has to be our partnership with the Simon Community for our latest collection, STRANGERS, MADE SOMEONE. As part of this partnership, we were able to give kids experiencing homelessness a very special Christmas and one not to forget.
Usually when we launch a collection, we use the sales to dictate how much we are able to give. However, for this collection we’ve turned giving on its head and transformed our WOSO in SOWO - Share One, Wear One. Crazy right? I always said I wanted to do things a little differently to what’s seen as ‘normal’ and to what for most people doesn’t make sense. When we sat down with Rebekah, one of the staff members at the Simon Community, she shared that giving these young individuals a chance to wear the new products before they've even launched would mean so much to them. These kids are so easily and so often overlooked by society and most of the donations they receive are second-hand. To have something brand new would be a complete surprise...
So, of course, our team got together to create specially crafted Christmas gifts packages for these 60 young individuals supported by the Simon Community. The presents included 3 pairs of our new socks, one of our new thermal beanies, one of the new T-Shirts from the STRANGERS, MADE SOMEONE. collection and a handwritten Christmas card designed and written by our team. To top it all off, we got in touch with Paul from Tribal Burger who was so keen to help out. Paul very generously and so kindly donated 80 burgers and chips for both the staff and the young people at the Simon Community to accompany these special Christmas gifts.
I had the privilege of handing these gifts and meals out last week with Gareth, one of our content creators. Gareth and I drove to each of the hostels where we got to meet some of the young people and staff and where we had the chance to tell them more about the collection and about them how proud we are to work with them. Nothing beats giving back. It’s by far my favourite thing at OutsideIn, and it’s the heartbeat of everything we do. Whenever we have a tough week or two, bringing it back to what it’s all about and giving to those who need it most serves as the perfect encouragement to remind us about why we do what we do and how much what we do is needed. But, all of this is only made possible by all of you. Your support genuinely makes such a massive difference to those experiencing homelessness and we couldn’t do what we do without you.
The new collection officially comes out in January and I don’t think there could be a better time to release it. With everything going on around the world and so many of us in lockdowns, it’s not difficult to feel like a bit of a stranger - even to those in your close circles. We are living in a time where there is so much physical, emotional and social disconnect that it’s no surprise that this has left us feeling at odds with friends, family, colleagues and anyone around us.
The heart of this collection is all about how we can make the strangers in our world feel like they are someone. It is about humanising those who are on the outside and making a point of letting them know that regardless of what their life looks like, they matter. It is about looking to the misfits and reassuring them that no matter what society says, they belong. This collection is all about celebrating and recognising the humanity within us all and using that humanity to create a connection - especially in a time where connection is so scarce.
I already have so many ideas for next year and next Christmas, but in the meantime, keep an eye out for our blog posts and our socials to learn more on how we have given back this year and for this collection and of course, why it’s so important to make the strangers feel like someone.
THAT’S A WRAP!
Looking back at all the highlights of this past year has been a great reminder that despite the hardship of the past year, it has given us some great memories and a true spirit of togetherness. It has presented both challenges and victories that encourage myself and the team to look forward to and have hope for the future, and it has recharged my dream to become one of the biggest clothing brands with the greatest impact.
I’m super grateful for how we have been able to stay open and how we were able to help so many people experiencing homelessness this year. A massive thank you to our many amazing followers who have continued to support us, even through the tough times. And another very big thank you to my incredible team that has worked so hard this year to make sure we could make ends meet, that we could invest in new products, and that have looked out for each other - especially those who have struggled with isolation and mental health.
2020, you have certainly been a year that we will never forget…! But we have learned so much from you and we look so forward to 2021 with expectation and hope.
Thank you for reading my final BTS blog of the year! I am super grateful to have you journey alongside us as we help bring those on the outside of society in. If you have any questions or would love to know more about what goes on, make sure to leave a comment below.
That’s all folks! See you in 2021!David