15th March 2009
The We Create* concept was initially devised in 2000 when founder Richard Leighton was 17, studying his A-levels, and working as a sales assistant at GAP in Birmingham.
Richard was concerned about homeless people being cold on the streets and thought it would be a good idea if clothing designers worked on a project with homeless people to design and develop functional and versatile apparel that would help keep them warm.
Richard went on to think that the clothing designers could also help teach the homeless people to design the apparel and that they could develop a business, brand, and a shop to sell the designs they produced.
Before you knew it, in Richard's head, this company could help employ all the homeless people around the United Kingdom and get them off the streets. Some of the homeless would work in Head Office developing and producing designs, some in the warehouse to store and distribute stock, and some in the shops to sell the designs to the general public.
A concept not dissimilar to the GAP where Richard worked but all people involved in the company were given a helping hand off the streets, training, and employment. Richard understood that maybe all homeless people weren't interested in designing clothing but he felt he could find a job in the company to suit most of them.
Aged 18 Richard decided that if he was going to develop this company he'd need to go to University to study fashion and the business and management processes that revolved around setting up a company in the industry. Richard applied for a variety of universities through UCAS and after visits to the different institutes he accepted an offer to study a BA Hons in Fashion Design Management at the University of Leeds in September 2002.
Richard planned on studying the degree, learning everything there was to know about the fashion industry, and after graduation three years later starting the company to help the homeless.
After the first year on the course Richard, despite having the best year of his life socially at University, academically wasn't learning the skills required to set up the business on the course. Over his first summer Richard stayed in Leeds and worked at his job as a sales assistant at Diesel. He looked at changing university and courses but decided to stay at the University of Leeds because of the friends and fun but decided that he was going to start to develop the company now rather than wait until after graduation.
Two months into the second year of his Fashion Design Management degree, in October 2003, Richard approach The Big Issue in the North with the concept to develop a Training and Design Management Agency that offered individuals from homeless backgrounds the opportunity to gain qualifications and commercial experience in Fashion Design called The Big Fashion Issue. Richard felt he couldn't set up the company by himself and needed help so he approached the organisation because he felt they both had similar aims and objectives.
The Training Agency would not only offer training in fashion design but also fashion journalism, photography, and styling. Big Issue vendors could use the training agency to develop the skills to design and develop branded clothing that was to be manufactured and sold to raise awareness and profits for the Big Issue to run the project. In addition vendors who wanted to learn fashion journalism, photography, and styling would develop a Quarterly (Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter) Big Fashion Issue magazine that the other Big Issue vendors could sell across the United Kingdom.
Richard approached The Big Issue because he found out through research that they were part of a network called International Network of Street Papers (INSP). The network was made up of 50 Big Issue-style publications in 30 countries around the world (now around 100 publications in 40 different countries worldwide). So Richard thought if he could make it work at the Big Issue in the United Kingdom that he could help other homeless people all over the world by utilising the Big Issue and its wider network.
In January 2004 aged 20, with a £500 grant from the University of Leeds Community Initiative (LUCI), Richard delivered his first 12-week Fashion Design and its Commercial Development course. The course showed Big Issue vendors all the processes involved in the design, production, promotion, and retail of fashion-based products. The course outcome saw participants develop a brand called VAGRANT and a range of Tees, hooded tops, and sweatshirt design for retail. The vendors also modelled the designs in the Leeds University RAG Charity Fashion Show and the University of Leeds Graduate Fashion Show. In the summer Richard delivered his second 12-week course working with the Big Issue in the Midlands and its vendors in Birmingham.
By the end of the summer Richard and the project had run two pilot courses with the Big Issue, developed a brand and designs for retail with Big Issue vendors in Leeds and Birmingham, and met the Financial and Managing Directors of the Big Issue in the North who rejected the concept and its further development. Richard also met the Managing and Financial Directors at The Big Issue in London where the concept was presented to the board and also rejected.
By this time Richard had realised that the best way to tackle homelessness in the United Kingdom was not to specifically work just with the homeless. He realised that homelessness was the end result of a number of unfortunate circumstances and that the best way to tackle homelessness was to work with people vulnerable of becoming homeless in the next five or so years of their life. Many of The Big Issue vendors Richard worked with were from disadvantaged backgrounds, had a poor education, and had ended up on drugs, offending regularly, and in prison. So Richard developed the concept into a Training and Design Management Agency that offered individuals from disadvantaged and socially excluded backgrounds the opportunity to gain qualifications and commercial experience in Fashion Design.
Richard had spent the past 11 months studying on the second year of his degree and working 20-plus hours a week on the project for The Big Issue as a volunteer. Still confident, and believing the concept was now stronger than ever after it's initial trial, Richard approached a number of other charitable and not-for-profit organisations connected with helping individuals from disadvantaged and socially excluded backgrounds across the UK. Unfortunately none of the organisations wanted to help. Richard thought it was his lack of experience and age that was the reason behind no one wanting to help with the concept so he decided to develop some other concepts he had generated while working on The Big Fashion Issue project.
Richard spent the next 2/3 years approaching and developing other fashion-based projects for an array of organisations including Oxfam, The Salvation Army, and the Homeless World Cup as a volunteer - all were also rejected for commercial development.
Richard had planned on successfully developing one of the concepts for Oxfam, the Salvation Army, or the Homeless World Cup and then re-approaching the Big Issue again to reconsider. Unfortunately by 2006 and aged 23 Richard had found that very few charitable and not-for-profit organisations were interested in innovating and diversifying, so he gave up and got a job working for French Connection as a sales assistant to save the money to study for an MA in Fashion so that he could get a job as a designer.
For the last 4/5 years Richard had felt very isolated and didn't realise that he had effectively been operating as a Social Entrepreneur or that there were other individuals out there like him.
Richard was asked to go and speak about the projects he had developed back at the University of Leeds at a university-run business event. One of the tutors organising the event asked Richard the question "You're a Social Entrepreneur aren't you, really?" and not particularly knowing the term he searched for 'Social Entrepreneur' on Google.
By chance a few weeks later, Richard came across an advertisement in the Birmingham Post jobs section for a course at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Birmingham. Richard had a look on the website but decided not to apply and continued to working to save for his MA in Fashion as, by this stage, he was pretty dejected with charitable and not for profit organisations. Richard started his MA in Fashion at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design - 3/4 months into the course Richard was inspired by his fellow students to look into The Big Fashion Issue concept again after a lack of motivation on the course and not really wanting to work as a designer for someone else.
Richard went on the School for Social Entrepreneurs website to have another look and noticed they were recruiting for the 2008 Fellowship Programme starting in April at the School in London. So he applied in December 2007 and was invited to interview in January 2008. Richard thought the only way he could afford to do the course was if he was offered a scholarship placement as he was already working five nights a week to fund his MA in Fashion. Richard was offered a scholarship placement in March 2008 and gladly accepted.
By April the course started and Richard felt he had enough skills, experience, and renewed confidence to develop the concept by himself into a Social Enterprise - We Create* was born. Over the next 3/4 months at the School for Social Entrepreneurs the concept made more progress than it had made in the last 3/4years. We Create* gained support from PricewaterhouseCoopers and funding from UnLtd* and the Prince's Trust for £5,280 to set the social enterprise up over the next 12 months.
In January 2009 We Create* was officially set up and formalised.
Richard graduated from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in April 2009 aged 26. He has now been offered and accepted a funded place on a PG Certificate in Social Enterprise at Coventry University and is in the process of finishing his MA in Fashion.
We Create* is now developing its organisation's outreach around the Birmingham area and is applying for funding and support from other organisations to help establish a National Headquarters. The headquarters will allow We Create* to train individuals from disadvantaged and socially excluded backgrounds in fashion design, support recent fashion graduates and young individuals based around the city setting up or wanting to set up their own labels, and space to retail their designs.
More information about We Create*
VIDEO TO FOLLOW when we can afford a digital camcorder!
Last Updated on 15/04/2009
Many Thanks and Kind Regards
1st April 2009
There's nothing more the We Create* team like to do on a Friday night after a long hard week at work than go out and play Pub Golf!
Please DOWNLOAD the PDF, print off one for each competitor, and get playing!
Many Thanks and Kind Regards