Haus of Armour’s founder, Kate Jackson, is driven by two forces: purpose and style.
Kate’s knack for assembling one-of-a-kind outfits and interiors was the foundation of an early career styling people and places. For more than twelve years, her work as a high-end interior designer, decorator and stylist took her across the world from Melbourne to London, Dubai and Asia, yet she yearned to do more – to make a difference beyond mere beautification.
Feeling burned and disillusioned, Kate booked a holiday to Kenya where she did volunteer work. The trip was life-changing. Upon returning to Australia, she decided to pursue a new career in social work. For eight years, she worked with young people and their families who were highly marginalised, often experiencing homelessness and moving in and out of the prison system. Then, during one of Melbourne’s many pandemic lockdowns, the idea for Haus of Armour, the charity Kate founded and now operates, came about. The Haus of Armour aims to empower women domestic violence victims through fashion.
Kate offers free clothing and personal styling services to these women, who often leave home with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The program helps victims feel empowered and regain a sense of selfhood.
The plight of Haus of Armour touched us, and we knew that we wanted to help in any way that we could. The Harmonic has partnered with Haus of Armour and will support the charity through clothing donations. It was a pleasure to talk with this inspiring, compassionate and determined woman and learn more about The Haus of Armour project.
What inspired you to start The Haus of Armour project?
I created Haus of Armour to empower women and help them feel good about themselves, but I wanted to achieve this in a way that aligns with me - through my interests and creativity.
I have worked in Social Work for the last ten years, but I absolutely love fashion. It has always been part of my self-care - I suppose it's been my escape from the heaviness of my work. I watch runway shows, do fashion illustrations and draw my own designs.
Over the past ten years working in the Social work sector, I have seen the impact Domestic violence has on the women I have worked with regarding their sense of self and self-worth. The idea for Haus of Armour came to me in the middle of the night during one of the many Melbourne lockdowns of 2020; it literally woke me up.
I started researching how clothes can recreate a person both inside and out and came across the quote by the late fashion photographer Bill Cunningham:
"Fashion is the armour we use to survive the reality of everyday life, " which resonated with me. This sentiment is the vision behind Haus of Armour.
Although the fashion industry is often dismissed as merely superficial, the evidence I have encountered suggests that the clothes we wear affect our behaviour, attitudes, personality, mood, confidence and how we interact with others.
In what ways have you seen women impacted by domestic violence positively impacted by Haus Of Armour project?
The testimonials I received from women who have been part of Haus of Armour were proof of the impact I hoped it would have. They felt seen, valued, and reconnected to themselves. I could see its impact just by how the women would look at themselves in the mirror, holding themselves differently from how they walked in before the styling session. (You can read the feedback from many of these women here).
I provide the women with three outfits. Two outfits are to act like armour when the woman needs to attend court to either apply for an ADVO or attend family court, where they would have to be in the courtroom with the perpetrator.
I knew that it was vital for them to walk into that space feeling protected, strong and confident. Another outfit needed to have the same effect when they exchanged the children with the perpetrator. The third outfit would help the women reconnect to their sense of self and help improve their mood on the days when the impact of the abuse meant they found it hard to face the day. I just wanted to create an outfit that would lift their spirits and help them feel like they did before experiencing all the abuse.
You piloted Haus of Armour in November 2022 during '16 days of Activism', when people worldwide unite to raise awareness about gender-based violence. Can you tell us about your experience in doing so?
The Haus of Armour pilot needed to coincide with 16 days of Activism as I wanted to help raise awareness of Domestic violence within our community. For the past 18 months, I have worked as a Domestic Violence worker in the Northern Rivers for the Women's Resource Service in Mullumbimby and have seen our referrals more than double. The more we speak about it and raise awareness around it, the more women are likely to seek support and these services are likely to obtain more funding to support these women rather than having them fall through the gaps.
I was grateful for the response of community members and fashion labels like The Harmonic, DISSH, Forrm Store, DK Active and Thread Together, who all donated clothes for the purposes of styling 16 women over 16 days. Money was donated by the Northern Rivers community so that I could set up a styling studio and implement the Haus of Armour pilot.
I love the Northern Rivers and the sense of community here, especially concerning issues that concern our community and in times of need.
Can you please tell us a little bit about your career trajectory to date?
My journey to creating Haus of Armour and how I got here has been a culmination of two careers and over twenty years of work. In my previous career, I worked as an Interior Designer, Decorator and Stylist for twelve years across London, Dubai, Asia and Melbourne.
My final job in Interior Design was designing 5-star hotels. I was so excited when I first got that job that I seriously thought I'd landed my dream gig. However, it ultimately left me entirely disillusioned by the industry.
I wanted to become a fashion stylist, but before I decided to start this career path, I went on a holiday and did volunteer work in Kenya. That trip was a life changer.
When I got back home to Melbourne, my rose-coloured glasses had come off, and I noticed how many young homeless people were living on the streets. I started volunteering with these young people, which led me back to study. Once I finished my study, I quit my job in Interior Design and went from designing 5-star hotels to working in a young men's prison. I couldn't have gone any further of an extreme if I had tried! But when I started working with these young men, I realised I was on the right path.
Since then, I have spent eight years working with the most high-risk, highly-marginalised young people and their families in Melbourne. These young people were in and out of the prison system, and I worked with them both in custody and in the community across issues such as drugs and alcohol, mental health, homelessness, counselling and family therapy.
In 2020 I had the idea for Haus of Armour and knew I wanted to focus it on women who were survivors of domestic violence. So In 2021, I moved up to the Northern Rivers and started as a Domestic Violence worker, supporting women and children escaping domestic and family violence.
What's next for Haus of Armour?
I now have a permanent space for Haus of Armour and have set up a styling studio in Mullumbimby, so I can continue to provide free styling along with free clothes and outfits to women who are survivors of domestic violence. I would love to expand Haus of Armour to different locations so its impact can be wider than just the Northern Rivers. I will also register Haus of Armour as a not-for-profit organisation this year.
The longer-term goal is for Haus of Armour to create potential job opportunities for women within the program - as many women leave the relationship with a lack of financial independence due to the significant financial abuse they've experienced.
The roles would be to assist with the operation of Haus of Armour and to help promote their financial independence.
How can our readers support Haus of Armour?
You can show support for our work at Haus of Armour in a few ways. The first is to pay it forward by hiring my services as a fashion stylist, which then supports a woman who is a survivor of domestic violence to be styled by me.
The second is by making a financial donation or creating a fundraising event to help raise awareness about domestic violence and the work of Haus of Armour to help us scale up our work and help more women.
Thirdly the fashion industry is worth $672 billion globally and $27 billion in Australia. I would love the industry to get behind this cause and donate samples, seconds, or heavily discounted stock for styling these women. Additionally, I call upon any fashion labels and organisations that have a strong sense of corporate social responsibility and want to support women who are survivors of domestic violence. You would be supporting their healing and recovery and helping them rebuild their lives away from violence.
What does circular fashion mean to you?
The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, which is why Haus of Armour repurposes fashion to reduce its waste and landfill so we can help decrease fashion's impact on the environment.
I'm so excited to partner with The Harmonic as we both value "repurposing with purpose".
Circular fashion also means considering how items are made in terms of materials used and the production of the garments to ensure they are both sustainable and ethical.
Have you ever sold your own clothing or bought pre-loved?
80% of my wardrobe is either vintage or pre-loved. I have pieces as far back as the 1920s and 40s. For me, the clothes I choose are an extension of myself. They reflect my passions and attitudes, and that's why I very rarely sell my clothes because they're often one-off pieces I just have to have as I feel like they "complete me as a person". That is the joke I make to justify my ever-expanding wardrobe, even though I have very limited wardrobe space!
Is there a special item you could never part with in your wardrobe? Why?
Yes, my cowboy boots! I bought them from Heritage Boot in Austin. They are the best, most authentic, artisan-made boots in Texas. I love country music, and I also do country two-step dancing (just to make it clear, two-step is not line dancing). I bought them when I was there in 2019 and went two-step dancing in them that same night. They were the most comfortable boots I'd ever worn, and I didn't even have to wear them in - which goes to show if you invest in quality, they pay for themselves in more ways than one. I've also had people stop me in cafes saying, "those boots are made for walking!" These boots definitely capture my joke that they complete me as a person.
Written by Chelsea Donaldson.