When Nick Pearce and Rob Gillies met at a school camp around 16 years ago, they never imagined they’d create a street wear brand that would help young people out of homelessness.
Nick is the chief executive of HoMie, a clothing social enterprise based in Melbourne that provides training and education – and new street wear – to support young people doing it tough. Named a Westpac Scholar last year, Nick co-founded HoMie with fellow Westpac Scholar Rob, and their friend Marcus Crook. Rob remains a HoMie board director and is also a doctor at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital.
Here is their story.
One of the first things I remember thinking about Robbie was he had a very distinctive personality.
He was a few years above me at school and was one of the leaders on my year seven camp.
My report from camp, which I’m pretty sure Robbie wrote, has still stuck with me. It said, “Nick seldom volunteers himself”!
I think that’s pretty funny, given the path I’ve carved out since then. Maybe that comment was what spurred me on.
Robbie was obviously super smart, and you could just tell he was always going to do really great things. The way he spoke was very articulate and highly engaging.
He was also a lot of fun. He and another camp leader used to stir me up, because I was this very gullible, inquisitive young kid, who believed everything they said! They were people you wanted to be around.
It meant a lot at the time to have an older person aware of who you were at school.
We stayed mates ever since and have helped each other out on different projects where we had similar interests, but it was a few years after school that we connected on our charity work.
Another friend Marcus (Crook) and I had started a project in 2013 – essentially a Facebook page where we shared the stories of people experiencing homelessness in Melbourne.
Robbie offered to get involved and, fundamentally, he bolstered what was a very organic, informal movement and solidified it into a legitimate social enterprise that’s now known as HoMie – a not-for-profit street wear brand that supports young people affected by homelessness.
He brought skills that absolutely complemented mine and Marcus’. He's hyper diligent and has incredible attention to detail. He's a wonderful sounding board, very balanced when approaching a challenge or opportunity and he's a great connector.
I didn't know it was humanly possible to be across as many things as Robbie is, and with such a high level of attention to detail.
He now works full time as a doctor at The Alfred Hospital after finishing four uni degrees, he’s founded four charities, volunteered overseas and in remote Indigenous communities and been named Young Victorian of the Year. There’s always something new happening in his world.
He has an enormous workload and responsibility, but executes all of it at a very high level.
And he still has a huge level of involvement behind the scenes of HoMie, as a board director, doing a lot of grit work and late nights. He’s always available to jump on a call to help put out spot fires, and certainly goes above and beyond in his commitment.
All the moments we’ve supported one another – along with this shared mission that we've been on – have built some really strong foundations for Rob and me. It's lovely to have gone from being teenagers, to young adults, to now entering this next phase of life – becoming, partners, husbands, fathers.
None of those shared moments can ever be taken away.
Nick was always this hilarious little kid who had everyone hanging off every word he said.
He was very witty, clever, charismatic and also kind, empathetic. His mind went at a million miles an hour and people always gravitated towards him.
I saw all of these qualities when he was just starting high school – I was a few years ahead of him – and his leadership and advocacy really just kept blossoming from there.
I remember being amazed by his courage, bravery and maturity when he became an ambassador for (mental health support group) Headspace and spoke really powerfully, at a time when the stigma around mental illness was much greater than it is now.
It was a really inspirational thing for someone so young to do, to really wear his heart on his sleeve and be willing to sacrifice for causes that were important.
His ambition to have a positive impact on the world was clear and that’s played out in a big way with HoMie.
The turning point really came when Nick and Marcus ran a pop-up Street Store in (Melbourne’s) Federation Square – a donation drive for clothes for young people experiencing homelessness.
The message they took away from that was when people donate clothes, they’re usually unwanted second-hand clothes, never new. They felt there was something quite undignified about that, implying that people experiencing homelessness aren’t deserving of new clothing.
The three of us sat down and thought, ‘Well, why can't there be a clothing shop that runs like a charity but gives brand new clothing to people experiencing homelessness in a dignified way?’
We didn't really know it at the time, but we'd dreamt up a social enterprise.
We never could have imagined HoMie would become what it is now, creating more and more pathways for people out of homelessness.
It’s grown organically, but there were times it was on a knife's edge.
Its success is really due to Nick’s brilliant leadership style.
He's genuinely inspirational. He does things with an energy and passion that I've never come across elsewhere. He has this way of bringing out the best in people, getting very diverse opinions to work together to achieve remarkable things.
He’s also a bit of a gaffe machine!
He has no filter and still says the funniest, rawest, silliest stuff all the time. It doesn't matter who he's with, he'll just speak his mind.
He shares details about his life and dreams in a really wonderful way and when you get to know him on a deeper friendship level, it gets even wilder and funnier!
People always say, don't do business with your friends.
But for me, Nick and Marcus, it's just never been an issue. We all bring different strengths, skills, weaknesses, resources and networks, so our friendships have only strengthened year after year – and that'll just continue.
It's exciting to be a part of Nick’s life, to see where he goes, and to continue working with someone with a similar vision who's so dynamic and apt at bringing visions to life.
I'm pretty proud to be affiliated with Nick in any small way – it's just a privilege to be tethered to someone so capable.
HoMie's Hoodies4Homelessness is on April 20, encouraging 28,000 Australians to wear a hoodie to reflect the number of young people experiencing homelessness.
Nick Pearce, the chief executive and co-founder of HoMie, was named a Westpac Social Change Fellow in 2021 and HoMie co-founder Dr Robert Gillies was named a Westpac Future Leader in 2019 by the Westpac Scholars Trust.