A Melbourne streetwear brand is taking excess and damaged stock from other labels and remaking it. Each Reborn piece – from the social enterprise HoMie – is unique and the profits fund initiatives for homeless youth. By Lucianne Tonti.

Rebirthing fashion for a good cause

Models wearing upcycled fashions from HoMie’s Reborn line.
Models wearing upcycled fashions from HoMie’s Reborn line.
Credit: Marcus Crook

In a dusty warehouse behind the Gasometer Hotel in Collingwood, Melbourne, Marcus Crook stands in front of several cardboard boxes overflowing with clothes. He pulls a white cotton hoodie out of one and holds it up by the shoulders. He’s scanning the soft jersey, looking for a flaw, a mark, a tear, a reason it has ended up here.

We’re in the middle of the studio for streetwear brand HoMie. It is from here that they also design and make Reborn, an upcycled collection. Crook is HoMie’s co-founder and creative director; he designs Reborn alongside Chloe Turner and Corin Corcoran. The boxes he is rummaging through contain excess or damaged stock that was donated by a bigger streetwear label, Champion.

Every Reborn collection is made using clothes like these, which would be otherwise destined for landfill. T-shirts are cut up and spliced together. Panels are inserted to alter the fit of a garment. Stains are embroidered over. Sleeves are replaced. Crook says, “We take a product that brands haven’t been able to sell, repurpose it, remake it, sell it and all the profit goes back into our programs.”

The programs he’s referring to are initiatives to help young people affected by homelessness or hardship. These include the HoMie pathway alliance, which offers retail training and a paid internship to struggling young people, alongside monthly VIP days where they are welcomed into HoMie’s Brunswick Street store to shop the brand’s main line free. Since it was founded, HoMie has helped more than 1700 people. It is both a label and a social enterprise, with 100 per cent of its profits being put towards the cause.

Reborn came about at the end of 2019, when Crook assessed the brand’s excess stock and decided to create a few upcycled pieces himself and put them online. “It sold really quickly,” he says, “and from then we were like, ‘How can we do this bigger and better?’ ” The next step was to employ Turner, Reborn’s head designer, and Corcoran, who graduated from the pathway program in 2020. Crook describes the design process as “problem-solving and creating at the same time”.

Sometimes the donated stock is in perfect condition but needs to be remodelled to make it more appealing to a HoMie customer. Other times, the stock is damaged, which narrows the focus of the team’s creativity and gives them some direction. For instance, the neck of one grey marle windcheater has been replaced by a navy one with three white stars dotted evenly around the collar. Crook explains, “This was panelled this way, because there were stains here.”

The jumper has a faint monogram dotted all over it. Across the chest, the words HoMie and Reborn have been printed in bright blue and black. Surrounding them are several simple graphics: two butterflies, a smiley face and a recycling symbol. Their simplicity evokes streetwear from the 1990s, something that is mirrored in the colour palettes of pastels juxtaposed with black, and in the silhouettes – midriffs, baggy long-sleeve T-shirts, low-slung shorts. There is also a reference to Virgil Abloh’s iconic work with repurposed and overprinted stock. Above the graphics are the words rethink, reuse, recycle, and, to the right: time for change.

Another T-shirt has been cut on the diagonal, from the right side of the neck to underneath the left armpit. The right sleeve and shoulder of a bright orange T-shirt make up the bottom of the garment, which has been cropped to the midriff. The left shoulder and neck are from a black T-shirt with the word Champion written in white, running down the bridge of the shoulder between two straight lines. This is a reborn product upcycled from second-hand materials is embroidered in the middle of the chest.

Crook proudly shows me the heat transfer and embroidery machines that allow them to realise their designs immediately. Once a month the studio is open to the public for sales. This collection will be available on Saturday, February 26. Crook says, “Everything is customisable on the day. We can embroider names or images and do prints.” He believes this ability to make each piece unique is what drives Reborn’s popularity. To consistently deliver unique pieces, the approach of designing has to be playful. Crook describes it as similar to doing a jigsaw puzzle. “We’re trying to make them one-off because that’s the way fashion is moving,” he says. “No one wants to wear something that someone else has got.”

Another T-shirt is two-thirds soft mint green and one-third dusty pink. The green is embroidered with a pink logo that perfectly matches the T-shirt with which it has been spliced together. Both were cut vertically in half from the shoulder to the hem; the pink one is slightly smaller so the hem is stepped. A smiley face and butterfly have been printed on the breast pocket in white, beside the words trash or treasure. In Australia, it’s estimated that 6000 kilograms of textiles are dumped into landfill every 10 minutes.

The left sleeve of a white cropped jumper reads back2life. The body of the jumper has been run through an overlocker so that black lines create the appearance of triangular panels across the chest. The jumper’s round neck has also been edged with black thread. There are three fluoro orange recycling symbols printed in a diagonal line from the left shoulder to the middle of the chest; on the opposite diagonal, Reborn is written in big old-English-style font. Beneath this are the words rethink, recut, reuse, recycle. Three black stars follow the text.

The chaos of this design, which is carried through the entire collection, from the carefully placed triangular panels to the partially visible prints and the frenetic use of words, is what allows each piece to feel new. It obscures whatever the garment was before. According to Crook, this is how the name came about: from the idea that they could take old garments, rebirth them, and give them a second life. “We decided to call it Reborn,” he says.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 19, 2022 as "Reborn and raised".

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Lucianne Tonti is The Saturday Paper's fashion editor.

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