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Meet the tradies changing conversations about men’s mental health, one colourful shirt at a time

Showing vulnerability among your peers and colleagues isn’t always comfortable, but for the co-founders of workwear company TradeMutt, opening up is the key to de-stigmatising mental health challenges in the workplace. 

Ed Ross and Dan Allen established TradeMutt in 2018 with the aim of creating vibrant shirts for tradies that would act as catalysts for starting conversations about men’s mental health.

Presenting the closing keynote address at Ozwater’20 Online last week, Allen said it was a personal tragedy three years earlier that inspired him to start the company. 

“In 2015, I woke up on a Sunday morning to the tragic news that one of my best mates had taken his life the night before,” he said. 

“It was my first experience with suicide and it's fair to say my life has never been the same since. During that period, Ed was my number one support network and sounding board. 

“We were designing these work shirts and we decided to use them for good. TradeMutt is a social enterprise workwear company by tradies, for tradies. We make funky, vibrant work shirts to make invisible issues impossible to ignore.”

By wearing a TradeMutt work shirt, tradies become advocates for starting conversations with workmates about mental health, creating a cultural shift around workplace masculinity. 

“Vulnerability is the key if we are to change the culture around mental health as leaders, as individuals, as family members, as partners,” Allen said.  

“If we don't have the capacity to show vulnerability ourselves and talk about some of the hardest stuff, there's no way that we're ever going to give permission to anyone that we talk to, to be able to show the same vulnerability back.”

Allen said the peer-to-peer movement was built on the participation of the community, giving tradies a way to advocate for and nurture the mental health of their workmates. 

“It’s imperative that anyone who wears our shirts takes on that responsibility to cut the crap and show vulnerability. You become a mental health advocate and you take on a responsibility to show vulnerability, show empathy and take a non-judgmental approach,” he said. 

“This is our approach to creating a peer-to-peer, community-based movement where people are more open and willing to talk about the tough stuff.”

Sharing stories to make an impact

Ross said the success of TradeMutt to date offered some overwhelming examples of how the brand was making an impact. 

“I have a mate who's a junior project manager. After we delivered some shirts to their site, he called me and said: ‘Mate, this place is out of control! Everyone is talking about mental health’,” Ross said. 

“It’s great to hear these stories. That's exactly what the shirts are there for."

In order to take the conversation around mental health further, TradeMutt launched its 120.Grit podcast to showcase stories of struggle and survival, and open up discussions about how to manage mental health. 

“We're always striving to understand how we can create more impact with what we're doing. An easy win for us was to have a conversation with people we want wearing our shirts,” Ross said.

“We've been really fortunate to have some high-profile guests [as well as] everyday people with amazing stories of resilience and overcoming some really big obstacles in their lives.”

As the workwear brand and its mission continue to grow, Allen said TradeMutt customers were at the heart of its success. 

“We like to have a very personal relationship with our customers, or our family, if you will, when they receive our shirts,” Allen said. 

“Our customers become mental health advocates and take on a responsibility to show vulnerability.”