This Outback Social Enterprise Is Changing The Face Of The NT Through Bucket Hats And T-Shirts

By Jessica Best

It’s odd to think that a couple of T-shirts, bucket hats, tea towels and water bottles could really mark some serious social change.

“I started House of Darwin to tell the story of my homelands through a true local’s perspective and I wanted to do as much good as I could along the way.”

That’s Shaun Edwards, a Larrakia man from the saltwater shores of the Northern Territory and the brain behind House of Darwin, a for profit clothing company that reinvests its profits into social programs in remote Indigenous communities. Edwards has a pretty distinct perspective on The Territory, having bounced between a couple of spots throughout his childhood including Gunbalanya in Arnhem Land, Mandorah and Darwin.

Local tip, he suggests exploring Bawaka in East Arnhem Land, if you haven’t already— ‘Bawaka’ translating to ‘heaven on earth’.

When it comes to doing good, Edwards has pretty much created the gold standard of social enterprises. House of Darwin is a relatively new venture, but it’s already marked an entirely new era in the world of grassroots change.

Edwards has driven north of 3000kms, through dirt highways and mining towns, in his beloved 1990s Toyota Cruiser ‘Olive’—all to deliver $20,000 worth of sporting equipment, on behalf of House of Darwin, to remote parts of the Northern Territory. The label has also launched a collab with Yeo Haus, a bona fide ‘gentle goods’ shop hailing from South Australia, whereby profits will go directly towards Hoop Dreams in the Northern Territory to refurbish a basketball court at Minmarama, an Indigenous community in Darwin.

On top of that, House of Darwin also teamed up with PASSPORT and Build Up Skateboarding at the end of 2021 in a bid to provide skateboarding workshops on the Tiwi Islands and Warruwi.

“Watching the kids gravitate towards a new sport was definitely a proud moment,” says Edwards.

It’s a pretty big feat considering House of Darwin only first found its feet during the early stages of COVID-19. Prior to this (and you may have already clocked on), Edwards was already making headlines in a completely different way.

“I was super fortunate to get drafted when I was 16,” he says.

“By the time I was 23 I had already spent seven years in the AFL system. My love for the game had diminished and my thirst for new ideas and cultures was growing so I decided to take the plunge and retire in pursuit of creating my own brand where I could make an impact in the place I loved the most, the Northern Territory.”

In terms of getting the social enterprise off the ground, House of Darwin’s biggest asset (its remote location) was also its biggest hurdle.

“We’re constantly facing shipping issues which have almost derailed us a few times. Shipping is the most frustrating thing we deal with,” says Edwards.

“Starting from scratch in a remote location definitely has its challenges. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve done but also one of the most rewarding. I feel like my biggest takeaway is that the right person will appear when you need them. Keep asking questions and making connections because help is always around the corner, and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything.”

A pretty significant turning point throughout the creation of House of Darwin came when Edwards linked up with Dan Single, co-founder of denim brand Ksubi.

“I met ‘Dangerous Dan’ through some previous work opportunities and got to witness first hand the energy and creative wonder he possessed” he says.

“I learnt so many things about Dan including his genuine care for his friends and ability to give time to so many people around. In terms of work, he taught me the importance of doing things perfectly and having a vision for everything you do. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying meeting Dan Single has been one of the great moments in my life.”

From here, Edwards was able to forge House of Darwin’s first brick and mortar by talking his way into the annual Darwin Street Art Festival, a celebration of murals which has been running every year since 2017. House of Darwin’s resident graphic designer and illustrator, Luna Tunes, painted a mammoth building in Darwin’s CBD with the words “Luna Tunes X House Of Darwin” sprawled on its facade and thus, House of Darwin officially launched.

As for the groovy graphics at House of Darwin, Luna Tunes, who also goes by the name of Liam Milner, is pretty much head honcho when it comes to all things illustrative however his talents surpass much more than this. He’s also a full-time artist at Aime mentoring, sports his own virtual store, hosts art workshops, dabbles in clothing design—the list goes on. 

“I’ve been very fortunate to have not only a great friendship with Liam but a great work relationship,” says Edwards.

“We rarely have a back and forth on a final design. He nails it every time.” 

At the crux of House of Darwin lies a swell of creativity and spirit to share corners of the Northern Territory without big slogans and filtered travel images you might find at the firm grip of big tourism bodies. There’s no vibrant drone footage or sunset panoramas, rather snaps of the crew behind Yolngu Radio, home to the likes of The Burwo Show (‘burwo’ meaning wildflower) and hosts Keisha Gurruwiwi, Jean Gurruwiwi and Roberta Dhurrkay; and historical photos of local legends dating back to the 50s and 60s. It’s from here that the essence of House of Darwin’s clothing and soft goods really start to take shape.

“The process usually starts with a trip to a region,” says Edwards.

“Then I’ll message Luna Tunes about what I saw or what happened and then the design phase starts. We source our organic blanks from a couple of suppliers and then they’re screen printed here in Australia which is pretty cool. We’re in the process of trying to become 100 per cent Australian made which is a lot harder than it seems but something that will be well worthwhile when it comes to fruition.”

“Darwin is a very transient community,” Edwards adds.

“Roughly a quarter of our community come and go every year so with this, the story of what Darwin is and how it's presented changes.”

That’s something pretty unique to House of Darwin too, if anything, the nuanced garments with printed designs of Stuart Highway, nostalgic street directory sketches of Darwin City and sticker packs with phrases like ‘Respect Your Elders’, are almost an afterthought. There’s an ongoing photo diary on House of Darwin’s socials and website with grainy film photography of Mparntwe (Alice Springs), Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land pinned everywhere which speaks pretty loud to the core message of the brand.

“It’s 2022 and people want to know where their money is going," says Edwards.

“I think the future of business is social enterprise full stop. It’s hard to imagine that in 100 years businesses would be operating without a social impact side of the business.”

With House of Darwin absolutely flooring it on the social enterprise meets fashion highway, we had to ask Edwards any words of wisdom he has for those thinking about starting a brand from scratch like he did.

“Just get started, how many times do you hear someone saying I’ve got this sick idea and never do anything about it? You’re going to die anyway, just have a go.”

You can shop House of Darwin here, or if you're on the ground—check out its bricks-and-mortar at 15/35 Cavenagh Street in Darwin.

Now scope out how Rollie's Vince Lebon is revolutionising Australia's sneaker game.

Image credit: House of Darwin

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