Interview with Trademutt and TIACS founder, Ed Ross
Ed Ross is the co-founder of TradeMutt which is a social impact workwear brand. They make funky, eye-catching workwear designed to start conversations about mental health among the blue-collar community, helping make an invisible issue impossible to ignore.Ed is a qualified carpenter, holds a diploma of Business (Agriculture) and is a founding director of the “This Is a Conversation Starter” foundation Ltd (TIACS)
JOEL: What is the TradeMutt brand story?
ED: We're a social impact workwear company founded by two trainees, Daniel, and me. We started in March 2018.
Dan lost a close mate to suicide here in Brisbane—tragically, one weekend in the end, it's sort of 2015.
Dan and I both TVs by trade. We're working on job site in Kenmore. Dan got a phone call from his mate on a Friday afternoon. Just absolutely delighted to say that he just secured an apprenticeship as a mature aged carpenter. He was supposed to start that job on Monday. Tragically his life, he took that on a Sunday morning. So, he never ended up starting that job. And it was quite an eye-opening experience.
I didn't know Dan's mate directly, but I was indirectly affected by his death through.
Dan's grieving, and his time at work and that mourning process, the months following. And then we'd already had an idea for some funky work shirts, an idea that just sat in the background there on long days on the tools out in the sun here in Brisbane.
After Dan's mate, passed away, we thought, “why don't we try and make a difference in this space and tie the two ideas together”, and we learnt what social enterprise was and profit for purpose. And we just went straight at it. Three and a bit year down the road and it's been an amazing journey so far.
The profit of purpose and the social enterprise, how did that all come together?
I think Dan and I both had a keen interest in in business and business models for quite a while. I'd gone to college down in Victoria, and then agribusiness diploma down there was always looking at different business ideas and how people had their own businesses—what they did for a living and how they got into it.
When we found out, though, there were people sort of dabbling in the space like “Thank you water” and stuff like that making a profit, repurpose. It was just something that we thought it was an absolute no-brainer.
“Why wouldn't you do this, you can have a for profit business that can make yourself employed, something that's scalable, and something that's helping a range of people and socially outcomes through doing the business you're going to do anyway?”
So, we learned what it was and when went for it, not even without a second thought it was exactly what we want to do. We want to make as much social impact as much social change as we can, through this cool business we've been able to create.
In the early days, was it a part time thing?
It's like all startup journeys. It was a very big day on the tools. We’re working most weekends to save up some cash for us to be able to start it. We were doing late nights during our business plans, and having meetings with people after work.
I remember we were meeting with people through Spring Hill, in the city, RV parking and loading zones with my big guy locks and dual axle trailer and Dan to be parking the company truck we were working for here in loading zones and stuff like that and ducking into meetings looking like we were trading still.
It was a lot of time spent. After hours of hustling—to make it happen—we were fortunate enough to get picked up. We're at a pub one afternoon having our Thursday night shareholders meetings, we used to call them and was the first time our samples that arrived from overseas that were right.
We thought “why don’t we wear these down to the pub and see how they go”, so worn down there. And it was Dan, and I are our mate Ross, and they have three hours and we had over six different people come up to us and ask us what the shirts are about and we're like, “holy sh*t, these things are working”.
They didn't even have this is a conversation start from the back yet and the last person that came up to us was some of the work for local rag paper here in Brizzy. And next thing we knew were on the Seven News and that was it. We’ve been full time monster ever since.
Do you think having that purpose with the mental health aspects helps you push further into stuff as opposed to just being like an independent?
Yes, absolutely. The interesting component is that people are drawn to stories, and people want to get more than just a product these days. People love buying into a cause or a narrative or a journey.
We're fortunate that we've been able to share our story in a way that is compelling and that people can relate to. We’ve all got mental health, it's something that we want to be looking after. We've all been away work where Why don't we wear something a little bit different adds a little bit of variety.
It allows people to share a little bit of vulnerability on a job site and just create that peer-to-peer connection allowing people to come together when they wouldn't otherwise be doing so.
What was the initial goal?
It was always the plan to be a conversation starter. But it was forgotten anything we ever believed that would be. We want people to start talking about the more important things daily.
“Why don't we just bought some shirts, see if anyone buys them and we'll go from there”.
They sold out. So, we ordered some more and rolled it over and we thought our people want high views one, so we'll make some obvious ones.
It basically got to a point now where it's more of a like a total uniform solution type thing where people absolutely love our branding and messaging and what we're doing with our social impact, and I just want more products. So that's basically what we're up to.
Does the government been in touch with you or ask you about?
Nothing yet. We haven't had anyone from the government reach here yet. I think it's people probably waiting for the data, we've been getting to start to push out that data and the impact we've been able to make.
What's the feedback that you're getting from the service?
We get amazing feedback. The ironic thing is that people reach out because they trust Dan and I regarding who we are as people. We've been on where people have reached out directly to TIACS, they already had plans in place to take their life.
We've been able to build up some real goodwill, in the brand. And the feedback is just overwhelming regarding it's free, which people just can't believe they think there's some sort of catch somewhere. Free, and you can use it for as long as you want and the cool thing is now, we're getting to a stage where people that have come to us in real Dire Straits, but we've been able to progress them right through, get them the help that they've needed. The education they've needed to now wean off our service.
So, our goal is obviously for people to access us. But our goal then is also to get people away but improve as human beings as they as we wean them off. That's the stages that we're at now”. The feedback we get is, is really, really empowering.
How many psychologists do you have on staff?
We've got for now, we're about to hire FPF. So, we've got a little tight-knit crew up there. We’re just hotbed to hire the next person to go up in there.
What’s the plan to expand that almost there are other things in the works?
The tech side of things, most traders, are up early in the morning, and most traders going to bed late at night. So that's the next main goal for us—to be able to pick up those hours earlier than nine and later than five and get people when they're at home and some blogs loosen up after a couple of studies and then willing to text or call someone.
Some people do night shift and come home early in the morning and want to be able to speak to someone. Expanding the services out is probably one of the next main goals, but also getting more industry partners on board. Setting up the TX Alliance is our big next goal, our next half of the year, this year in the first half of next financial year is setting up the TX Alliance and getting more industry partners on board and helping further fund more psychologists.
It cost us $120,000 a year to hire one psychologist, but we're able to give out a three to one return on that money to the community. So, if you give us $1, we'll give three back to the kids Unity for zero cost. Getting that funding model together.
It’s sustainable, it's scalable, and something that we know will continue to keep the lights on but create further change in the community.
What's happening in Facebook group?
It's the closed Facebook group for anyone that bought trademark, work there before. We get stories in there of people that have seen other trademark shirts and their instant mates regarding they've got a common cause and a common story and something that they can chat about.
We also yet hear stories of impact, where people are just out and about, and someone spotted the shirt and asked what it's about and they've opened and showed some vulnerability, and then reached out to TX or ATF support somewhere els.
Amazing spots of the shirts have shown up all over Australia, people out wearing our belts.
What have you personally learned from the experience?
Looking back now, I didn't even realize that everyone had mental health. People just think that mental health is depression, anxiety. That’s the amount that Dan and I've learned and our employees along the way, is profound.
There’s plenty of times looking back much old regarding where family members or friends were experiencing poor mental health, but we were none the wiser weren't labeling it that, it was just having a sh*tty couple of weeks.
What we've learned about ourselves, how we operate, how to run a business, how to head have started charity, how to employ people how to set a culture and make we've yet learned so much and still learning made huge mistakes, and will continue to make mistakes, but learn from them. North Star regarding where we want to take it. Make as much impact as we can.
How big is your team now?
Including a couple of Kegels, we've got we're about 15 in trademark, and we've got yet 5 for psychologists in TX and then Mark, he's the CEO. He runs it for us. He has five over there and 15 introvert sighs, but 20 of us brought around here.
What do you do for your own mental health?
Investing in a lot of reading. My goal this year was to read book a month. Connection with the wife and at home with the dog doing bit of gardening, chilling out and just the sitting a bit of routine. Take some time for yourself.
It's important where Dan and I are going to the desert race this year to go and do a bit of spectating and travel out to Central Australia and taking two weeks off and middle the year just to rejuvenate and something that. We've put across your entire business everyone in the business has got to take two weeks off at some stage this year.
Don't burn out because the Christmas rush September onwards is absolute chaos, and we want everyone to be set up and ready to go for a big end of the year.
To learn more about TIACS, visit https://www.tiacs.org/
To learn about Trademutt, visit https://trademutt.com/