Toronto Dancer Creates Beyoncé and Rihanna Sweaters to Help Charities

Owner and creator of 1Club, Shawn Bracke says his 50/50 percent cotton/polyester sweaters are perfect for an active person, someone in a creative space. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Whether he’s teaching a dance class or sketching in his notebook, Shawn Bracke always uses his art to support charities. Now he creates sweaters with faces of celebrities on them and donates 35% of the proceeds to a different charity each month. Founded in September 2016, his online clothing brand 1Club stands for the idea of “all for one and one for all”.

Sveta: Hi Shawn! It’s exciting to learn a new artistic side of you besides dancing. How did you come up with the idea of creating your brand?

Shawn: The idea was always charity, donations. But not all. I was sketching a lot for the last five years or so, and I started putting it on clothing myself. People really liked that. On top of that, I was donating once a month from classes that I teach to different charities. So I kind of just fused the two ideas together. I thought, instead of donating from the classes I would start a brand.

Sveta: Did you have any background in fashion?

Shawn: Yep, I used to be a stylist. I used to live in London, U.K. I was a stylist there for two years, mostly just like on set for music videos, TV, and films. So it’s not the most creative because you can’t do really much with film and TV — you literally give them like this template —, but I definitely had an understanding of the industry. Honestly, fashion doesn’t really apply to my brand. The whole goal for it is to be comfortable and wearable and easy.

Sveta: How does the design of your brand express its idea?

Shawn: We stand for all for one and one for all. So the goal of the brand is essentially to create all-inclusive type of company, something comfortable and supporting. Originally, they [sweaters] are just faces of people that really inspired me. People who are using their celebrity styles to make a change in the world. There are pretty big names, like Beyoncé and Rihanna, Gigi Hadid, Victoria Beckham. They all are known for what they do either as musicians or designers, but I love all of them because they are affiliated with charities. And obviously, I know that people would love to wear a Beyonce sweater or Rihanna [sweater]. And I like that it’s all strong women. A lot of charities that I focus on are geared towards helping women.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: What are some charitable organization you work or have worked with?

Shawn: Right now we are with Red Door Family Shelter. We’ve worked with Covenant House. They are cool. They are like a shelter for the homeless slash for people who are distressed. So they help a lot of women who are in bad situations with their husbands or who are trying to escape.

Sveta: What is exciting for you about working with charities?

Shawn: I’ve always loved donating to charities, but as a dancer I would just do it with my credit card online. With the company there’s different formatting. You obviously have to build relationships with them [charities]. It’s been very cool to see their responses and meet different people within the charity. And also, knowing where the money goes is comforting. I was kind of nervous going into it, that these different charities wouldn’t be that interested and would just kind of take a donation, but they all have been so lovely and so caring. Just hearing the cool things they do to change people’s lives is awesome.

Sveta: Does anyone help you to run the business?

Shawn: Yeah, so the sketches I do myself, and then I have a company, actually, a friend, who prints all the clothing. He works in film and TV, so it’s cool we have that relationship. And I also have some friends who help me to run the company. Primarily, it’s just me, but we do a lot of events. We go to different markets, so I have a crew who sometimes writes the emails and does the administrating.

Sveta: What is the most difficult part of running a clothing company?

Shawn: I would say, continuously promoting our brand. The more promotion you do, the more you need new people. And it’s not even bad. The most difficult is the most fun in a weird sense. I think it’s just the nature of any creative person: anything that’s difficult, you like doing because you know that it’s a challenge for you. I don’t know if as a journalist and a dancer you can agree with me. I hope that answers the question.

Sveta: I think I agree with that. Would people who wear your sweaters be creative as well?

Shawn: Obviously, I would love everyone to wear the sweaters. The goal is to benefit charities and feel comfortable and cool, yeah? But, generally speaking, the people, who have been gravitating towards it, are people like us, who work during the day and take a dance class or a yoga class or go to the gym at night… Or maybe they just wanna have like a Sunday-cozy sweater to go to a brunch and go for a walk after. My mum and her friends wear it too. They wear it on Saturdays if they go out for a show or something.

Sveta: Do you have your favourite sweater?

Shawn: Right now the Beyonce-embroidered is my favourite just cause I haven’t seen anyone do an embroidered sweater and I just love the texture of it. I’m excited that my drawing can be transmitted into an embroidered sweater.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: How do you build your collections in terms of frequency, colours…?

Shawn: As we partner with a different charity every month, the goal is to do a new sweater every one to two months. The first collection is all white, and the second collection had like that salt-pepper and safari [shades]. And then for the next one we are gonna go back to straight one colour. I definitely want to keep them neutral. For me, as a dancer, rehearsing, I like to wear very basic colours or shades rather. And my clients love that kind of neutral shades, so… We might play with colours later, but for now we are gonna keep it.

Sveta: Are you planning to add more items to your collections in the future?

Shawn: In September we have few other things coming. T-shirts and some other stuff, which I’m gonna keep secret.

Sveta: Were you thinking about creating 1Club physical store?

Shawn: Right now it’s an online-brand. I think we are gonna keep it there for a while. I don’t really have any goals to make it a physical shop… like in the near future.

Sveta: What does 1Club mean to you personally?

Shawn: 1Club for me is a nice escape from the dance world [we both laugh]. That sounds terrible! I couldn’t live without it [dance]. It’s like who I am, but there’s so many sides of me. Just like there’s so many sides of you. So it’s like a break from always focusing on like, Oh, I need to do this with dance. I need to focus on this with dance. For me it’s to meet different types of people with 1 Club that I would never be able to meet in the dance world.

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A Voice For All: Jahmeelah Gamble

There are only so many hours in the day, and Jahmeelah Gamble makes every moment count. From her community involvement, facilitating programs for youth with disabilities, to hosting her own television and radio shows, she is the epitome of a superwoman.

1) First and foremost, can you talk about what you do? I was reading your website and it seems like you have your hands in everything, with a strong focus on disability and equality? How did you get into this and what is your background?

JG: I’ve been in the field for fifteen years, with a background in Developmental Services Working from Fanshawe College in 2010. Prior to that, I was involved in various day programs supporting children and adults with disabilities, and that’s when I decided to turn my passion into my career.

The way I got into it, well I really cannot say; I myself don’t have a disability, I don’t have a child or any family with disabilities. I’d like to say that God had a plan for me and thought that I would be a great asset to this field, so that’s how I got into it.Working in this field, I was trying to find different ways to be an advocate, but not be in the typical thick of things. Yes, I work for the School Board and I am an Education Resource Facilitator, but I wanted to go above and beyond that, so I started my own business, Ms. Jams. I consult with families, workshop facilitation, and community advocacy. There’s different organizations that have me come out, and I do workshops, whether it is parent empowerment or disability sensitivity classes with them, just to give them a really lighthearted and open perspective on how they can better understand disability awareness, and whether it is improving their business or just improving their attitudes, that is my goal when I go out and I support them. With parents I consult, especially with those first time parents whose first child is born with a disability, I help them understand the system and what the next steps are, and really remind them that they are first and foremost the expert of their child, and help them decide how they can be the best possible advocate for their children.

My show, A Voice For All, launched in 2014, and it’s hard to believe it’s in its fourth season. As I said, that wasn’t my educational background, but I did do an interview on Roger Television to promote Autism Awareness Month. The following year, I wanted to come back and talk about families, and that I was concerned that as a community, we didn’t do enough to help parents with children with disabilities feel welcome and understood. I wanted to pick which show I wanted to be on, so I thought that if I put my application in for Show Proposal, that that was me proposing to be on a particular show, and little did I know, I was asking to have my own show. I ended up totally winging an interview with a producer, explaining how I could have my own show and what it would be about, and next thing you know, I had a pilot then I had my first season, and I have not looked back since!

I am the host and the producer of the show. We proudly support people with disabilities, their support workers, the grassroots organizations that need more exposure, and most importantly, we provide support to parents. I have had parents come on the show and tell their stories, and it creates a sense of community for parents tuning in and they can learn from each other. What I love most about my show is when we have organizations like the Special Olympics come on, and there are athletes that rarely get mainstream television and they get ten whole minutes about why they are awesome, how they became the person they are, and regardless of what their disability or their cognitive level is, they made it work and they made it happen.

It’s been a rewarding experience for me, to better understand the organizations in our communities that really need our support, but also I’ve learned a lot about myself as an advocate. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years, but I still feel like I’m just getting started. The first couple years was me getting my feet wet and exploring who I am, and now that’s I’ve found this passion in media, whether it is magazines I’ve written for, my show, and I’ve recently launched my online radio program called Straight Up with Jam, where I talk straight up about disability issues and awareness within our community and around the world. The channel that my show airs on, Voices For Ability, is the only online radio show within the region that is for people with disabilities by people with disabilities, so I was honoured when they approached me about hosting a show. So I am speaking on the perspective as an able-bodied person, and identifying things that my fellow able-bodied people do that are not always right, but at the same time, trying to help the able-bodied community people with different abilities. We have various people from different organizations come around, and we talk straight up about the issues. It’s my way to contribute to an amazing group of people who are often misunderstood and I’m just doing my part.

2) What have been the struggles of doing this, as well as the rewards?

JG: The struggles of me being in this field of work is convincing people why they should pay attention, especially because I am able-bodied. I have been asked “Why are you so passionate about disabilites? You don’t even have a disability, and no one in your family is affected”. My answer to that is I have a heart, and my heart cares about individuals who do have different needs. When I go to different events, and especially mainstream events, my struggle is getting the platform to express to people to open their ears and their eyes and their hearts to what I am trying to promote. My struggle is a part of the story. When you have these setbacks, it gives you that fuel to keep going, and when I do come across these walls of people, that shows me that I need to work harder to promote the work that myself and other people are doing. There are harder days, when I am in the school system when I am seeing my students being misunderstood, I become sort of a mama bear, and showing people that they have a value and a purpose.

The rewards are the people I work with. I love my students, I really do. My previous student from last year was actually my flower girl at my wedding. She holds a very special place in my heart, so it was only natural that she be a part of our big day. I have had students and clients who have underestimated themselves. We have had big goals for them, and when we achieve that goal and I see that sense of pride on their face and their parents’ faces, that’s the biggest reward for me. Even with A Voice For All, and seeing how far it has come, that for me is a reward: having people understand what I am trying to promote. My work is my reward, every single day.

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3) Tell me about your dance classes and how they started.

JG: I am not a classically trained dancer, I just happen to have some rhythm! For a couple years, I was a fitness instructor for the YMCA, and a previous colleague wanted to partner with me to do an event for individuals who have disabilities, especially adults. What the general population does not know is that typically when people with disabilities get to about 18 years old, they are essentially pushed off the cliff by the system. There is not enough funding and programs to support them, so they are left to their own means. We decided to launch EmpowerMe Fitness and Education about a year ago, which is a non-profit fitness program for adults with developmental disabilities. We took my fitness routines and modify them to each class; so for example, if we have an individual who is in a wheelchair or someone with autism, we completely modify the class so everyone is up and moving and everybody included. We rely solely on public donations and are now exploring government funding as well, because we need to have programs like this running consistently. It’s come together by need, with my background in Developmental Disabilites and dance, and her extensive background in Behaviour Therapy, to create something that a lot of people and their families were looking for. Some people weren’t even meeting us, they just showed up because there was nothing else like this available. We are always expanding and growing because the need is there. In the future, we hope to work with more classically trained dancers and get into gyms to help the staff working better understand and connect with members with disabilities. EmpowerMe not only aims to support people personally, within our program setting, but also the population and the community at large understand how they can better welcome individuals with disabilities.

What is next for you, in 2015 and beyond? What are you most proud of?

JG: I am hoping that we can take A Voice For All on wider platform to reach a bigger audience. I don’t believe in five year plans, because I really do not know. What I want is to continue to be healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally, so that I can continue to do the work that I do. In the upcoming months, I want to continue to learn more, become more passionate, and become a stronger advocate. I want to be involved in greater opportunities that allow me to further my experience, connect with more people, and strive to become a person who can create change and understanding.

With confidence, I can say I am self-made and that I am always looking for ways to grow. Yes, I am a Teacher’s Assistant during the day, but I have my television show, my radio show, I sit on committees, I do events, I do public speaking, so that to me is something I am really proud of. In such a short amount of time, I have accomplished so much, and I have grown, and helped people grow, and we are just getting started.

Stay connected with Jahmeelah by following her @MsJamPccs and keeping up with her at http://www.msjam.ca/