Work shirts start a conversation

TradeMutt work shirts are igniting peer to peer mental health support

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Livestock agent Brendon White, with farmer Phil Harding from Brooklyn, Condobolin. Brendon said wearing his TradeMutt work shirt during the drought prompted many conversations on mental health. Photo: Supplied

Livestock agent Brendon White, with farmer Phil Harding from Brooklyn, Condobolin. Brendon said wearing his TradeMutt work shirt during the drought prompted many conversations on mental health. Photo: Supplied

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Loud work shirts enable conversations on mental health to be heard.

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TradeMutt work shirts are designed to be loud - their bright colours and out-there patterns aiming to give a voice to the often silent issue of mental health.

Founded by carpenters Ed Ross and Dan Allen, TradeMutt was created to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing among the 'blue collar' workforce of the labour industry, including tradies, farmers and miners.

The idea is that wearing the colourful work shirts will lead to questions, which will in turn start a conversation around mental health.

'This is a Conversation Starter' is on the back of every shirt and is also the name of TradeMutt's not-for-profit organisation which offers free access to mental health professionals.

Ed and Dan first met working on a building site in Brisbane. Ed had spent a year at Marcus Oldham in Geelong and few years working on stock camps in the Northern Territory before he decided to take on a carpenter apprenticeship.

"I started a mature-aged carpenter apprenticeship for a builder in Brisbane and on the same day I met Dan, my co-founder, best mate and business partner at TradeMutt," Ed said.

"We were putting in long days on the tools together and we started looking into some business ideas.

"Then tragically Dan lost one of his mates to suicide here in Brisbane, completely out of the blue.

"It changed our lives really, mental health was something we had never been involved with, it was never front of mind."

This is a conversation starter

They already had the idea for the work shirts but decided to tie it together with raising mental health awareness in the labour industry.

"We catapulted ourselves into it and now we're two and a half years down the road.

"It's been overwhelming, we've now got a team of 10 staff and we have our own non-for-profit organisation (This is a Conversation Starter or TIACS), a free text and call service direct to psychologists.

"That allows us to close our full circle approach, people are starting conversations in our work shirts everyday and then when someone needs more help than just a peer to peer support we can be there for them," Ed said.

The shirts have travelled far and wide, from Mount Everest to Antarctica, but many have also ended up closer to home.

I wasn't even out of the ute by the time they said 'what are you wearing? - Brendon White, KMWL Livestock Agent

Kevin, Miller, Whitty, Lennon and Co livestock agent from Condobolin, Brendon White wore the work shirts through the recent drought.

"I thought it would be a great idea to wear them if I was just catching up with a farmer, I could embrace the slogan on the back, This is a Conversation Starter," Brendon said.

It worked. Brendon said there was a 100 per cent strike rate of farmers asking about the shirt.

"I wasn't even out of the ute by the time they said 'what are you wearing?'

"I would say 'yeah mate this is a shirt about mental awareness and health.'

For the most part, Brendon found once that conversation had started, farmers were keen for a chat.

"The last two years, I think I'm speaking on behalf of all stock and station agents, we were counsellors as well as agents," he said.

"You'd get out there and they haven't seen anyone for three weeks in the middle of a raging drought, there were hours upon hours of tough conversations."

The drought has broken in the Condobolin region, but that doesn't mean Brendon will stop wearing the TradeMutt shirts.

"Mental health isn't only caused by drought, if they're suffering from something deeper the drought breaking isn't going to fix it," he said.

Brendon said some of his clients and friends had also started wearing the shirts.

"You'd almost see one once a week now, which is absolutely fantastic," he said.

  • The TIACS Foundation support line is 0488 846 988, available 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. You can also call 24 hour service Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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