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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SKETCH20: Transformations Through the Arts

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Young artists brought their creative residency at 180 Shaw St., Artscape Youngplace, to life. The rooms were filled with singing, dancing, painting, poetry, serving, and selling art last Thursday. Everyone was celebrating the 20 years of SKETCH, an enterprise that stands for transformation through the arts.

The free event brought together SKETCH’s artists, teachers, their friends, and the grads, some of whom came here 20 years ago. In one word, it was a nice family reunion.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

The guests were socializing by the festive table decorated with silver balloons and beautiful snacks. With hot drinks in one hand, they were enthusiastically reaching for pink, green, and yellow cupcakes, candy canes, and butterscotch candies.

Then they walked to the Marketplace where students of creative alternative schools were selling their work.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Joedee Rackale of the art school, displayed her paintings and looked like an art piece herself. A ring on her nose, labret piercing, silver keys sticking out of her head, and multi pattern outfit matched her futuristic paintings.

“My favourite thing to draw would probably be people,” said Rackale. “I’d much rather be at a school where we can do what we love, learn, grow, and get the credits we need, rather than a traditional school that is too strict, too narrow.”

Joedee Rackale. Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Parr Josephee, a student at Oasis Skateboard Factory, was giving away fliers promoting their skateboards, stickers, buttons, and T-shirts that he and other students made in class.

“We make our own brand and we run our own brand,” said Josephee. “If I sold the skateboard for one hundred bucks, I get 50, and the school gets 50 to get the materials.” Josephee said he prefers his alternative school to a traditional one because he gets more practical skills and experience at SKETCH.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

“Some people can’t handle a traditional school,” he said.  “You are just sitting in class and writing, and you are just thinking about what you gonna do after school. You are not thinking about the subject. People want to be active. They want to move. Making skateboards, you are always moving. You are making money, you are getting credits. It’s so amazing.”

Some teachers have been working at the Artscape Youngplace for 15-20 years. Craig Morrison, who teaches at the Oasis Skateboard Factory, said he enjoys his job and wants to proliferate his experience at SKETCH and help other communities across Canada recreate what they’ve done.

“It’s amazing to go to school every day and be around such creative young people,” said Morrison. “I think the hardest part of my job is to educate, to make sure that there’re organizations and spaces that get resources to give to this youth. Especially marginalized youth who may not have all those opportunities.”

Photo by: Sveta Soloveva

Live shows — singing, dancing, poetry reading, and painting — were waiting for the guests behind each door at the studios downstairs.

Hip hop and R&B musician Oddane Taylor gathered a crowd of people who joined him in singing and dancing to his songs Say You Know Me and Feels Like I’m Dreaming from the album No Pressure.

Musician Oddane Taylor. Photo: Sveta Soloveva

“I can’t live without music,” said Taylor. “I find it therapeutic. I have to do it every single day. It’s like my passion, my love. It’s self care.”

Constantly moving as a youth, homeless person a few times, Taylor said SKETCH helped him to get off the streets. “SKETCH is essentially my career,” said Taylor. “When I came to SKETCH, I found my confidence and network with a lot of people in the industry and people who are currently my team.”

R’n’B musician Rohan Wallace ‘R Love’. Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Taylor isn’t the only one who has gotten his enterprise off the ground and experienced the transformative powers of the arts at SKETCHSince 1996, this powerful and creative enterprise has changed the lives of 10,000 young people around Canada, inspiring them to make things, make friends, and bring positive changes to their communities.

Artscape Youngplace, the 7,500-square-foot creative hub, has studios for music, culinary arts, ceramics, and textiles. Three times a week they open their doors for street involved and homeless youth to do workshops on beatboxing, recording music, and painting.

From left to right: Dale Roy, Russell Pulkys and Jams Blackmore. Photo by: Sveta Soloveva

“For some people just getting to SKETCH is sometimes an accomplishment,” said Dale Roy, marketing and communications associate at SKETCH. “Maybe they are dealing with addictions, maybe they are dealing with inner conflict. For other people just being able to participate in something over a period of time is also an accomplishment.”

Roy shared some successful stories of their artists: “One [enterprise] called Just Clay was three young people who had a knack for ceramics. They were able to work with Evergreen Brickworks to create their own class every Sunday. And they invited families and kids.”

Musician Dynesti Williams. Photo: Sveta Soloveva

The new year will bring even more exciting things to SKETCH. For example, it is about to launch a new media art department in January.

“We haven’t  really been touching digital arts or computer programs and coding and staff like that. So it’s very exciting for us,” Roy said.

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On Our Radar: Phyllis Novak, Founder of Sketch

Sketch is using the arts to transform Toronto by tapping into the creativity of our city’s homeless, marginalized youths. The program’sfounder, Phyllis Novak, gives us the rundown on this game-changing concept 

Novella Magazine: What is Sketch?

Phyllis Novak: Sketch creates opportunities for young people from ages 16 to 29 living street involved, homeless or otherwise on the margins, to experience the transformative power of the arts, to build leadership and economic self-sufficiency in the arts,
and to cultivate social and environmental change through the arts.

Photo Courtesy of Sketch
Photo Courtesy of Sketch

 

NM: Can you share with us the story of how you founded it?

PN: I always say Sketch found me in a way. I’ve been with it now for 19 years, and it started off as a small project that emerged from some work I was doing with some young people at a drop-in centre for street youth. As a local art maker, I was noticing there was something really powerful there in terms of an approach to engaging young people on the margins at a super imaginative capacity that I’d never heard anyone else talk about before. Like, I don’t hear people lead with that when we talk about the margins, like, “have you ever discovered how imaginative that young homeless person is?”

NM: How is Sketch such a dynamic, different concept?

PN: It’s an unorthodox concept because the charitable mindset typically tells you to socialize with the homeless in a particular way, with the goal of helping them to live in a better way. We haven’t necessarily been trained to look for an alternative way for all of us to live, and how a homeless person might actually contribute to the leadership of that dialogue.

Phyllis Novak — Photo Courtesy of Sketch

NM: How do the arts help homeless youth and kids living on the margins?

PN: I get super sparked when young people interact within the arts. These kids get excited, they feel relief because there’s suddenly a new way to express themselves. It assures them that the world wants their creative expression, that it matters to the universe. By exercising their creativity more often they feel better about themselves, they get some stress relief and get to improve their overall mental heath. It also provides some concrete ways to learn technical skills.

NM: The idea behind Sketch us using the arts to create a better world. How can Toronto in general benefit from this mindset?

PN: The traditional systems are not engaging people from the perspective of, “what are you good at?” If all our grade schools took a young person and said, “forget about these grades that I’m offering you according to these standardized tests, what are you good at?” Like, let’s learn from your gifts and figure out how they can be a part of local context, how they can help build neighbourhoods.