Ollie Henderson on Mean Girls and an All Girls Stooges Band
Ollie Henderson sits with her elbow on the table, leaning close to her laptop screen in the study of her flat. The morning sun is shining through the window behind her, along with the rack of clothing that she eventually picks through to show me one t shirt she made to stave off an ex. The white tee proudly displays a play on a Mean Girls quote saying, ‘You Cunt Sit With Us,’ in bright red paint as she giggles at the ridiculousness of its existence. Her hair is tied back in a neat ponytail and she looks effortlessly put together, even though it’s 9AM. She asks me first about myself, my major, my interests, despite the context of the interview, but that’s exactly the kind of genuine curiosity and enthusiasm many have come to enjoy about the Aussie native.
The spunky model has been making her own mark in fashion, using the industry as a vehicle to get younger generations interested and involved in politics. She laughs about her take over of Fashion Week Australia last year, seeing how far her company House of Riot has come since is impromptu beginnings. Now the truly DIY project for social change Ollie had originally envisioned has a hand in everything from music festivals to graffiti, and yes, still works diligently through the fashion industry that she has always known and loved.
Milk Made’s Jordan Mack got a moment to Skype with Ollie during her now hectic life, between modelling and running a company full time, sharing with us her love of Mean Girls, fairly priced manufacturing, and the idea of The Stooges fronted by all girls.
I know it’s kinda early over there. How is everything?
It’s not that early actually! It’s 9 o’clock I should be up and doing things by now. Don’t worry, I’m ready for you. [laughs]
So to keep everyone updated on your ventures, what is House of Riot?
I guess we’re a social enterprise and our main aim is to get young people engaged or interested in politics. We work primarily in the fashion industry since that’s the industry I’ve been a part of since I was 16, so my entire adult life [laughs]. But we’re branching out into other creative fields. We collaborate with local artists. We just had a great piece go up in St. Leonards in Sydney. It’s a wall mural by Jodee Knowles of someone wearing a shirt that says ‘homeless are human.’ It was really nice. We’re also working with Oxjam, we’ll be doing the closing party for their festival as a fundraiser and getting other local musicians involved with that. We’re also putting on a politically themed art exhibition at the end of the year.
Wow, busy busy!
Yeah, I guess what everyone knows best is the shirts though. 20% of all the profits from those shirts go to charity and depending on which shirt you use, the money will go to a charity that deals specifically with the subject matter of the shirt. We just launched our first customs collection which is the Freedom Collection. They’re all handmade by me and my pals in the studio.
That storming of Fashion Week Australia really brought you a lot of buzz. What is overwhelming to be hit with so much attention so suddenly?
It’s been quite a ride. I’ve only been doing this for one year now. I suppose the biggest challenge for me has been the work load. I still model full time, but now I also run a business full time. It’s really strange for me to reflect on my life 18 months ago, being in New York, doing more visual art. Compared to coming back here and pretty much accidentally starting HOR. It got so incredibly hyped, that there came an opportunity to take this message further. So I just sort of took it. Before I started, I thought, ‘6 months, the buzz will die down,’ but here I am, living in Australia for a year now, which is the longest I’ve ever lived in any country since I left home. It’s a big lifestyle change. It’s also really cool to be recognized for work outside of modelling. You can never really take too much pride in modelling accomplishments because essentially, I was born this way and have been incredibly lucky. As a model, it’s rare that you actually have input to the creative story. You’re mostly doing what you’re told and helping someone else with their creative story. It’s really fun to do, but HOR is my baby and it’s really nice to be recognized for that. Actually, after I did my TED Talk, I got recognized on the street a couple of times. It’s really really nice.
So you chose a really DIY route with HOR, what made you go the riot grrl, zine kind of path?
Well, I think one of the great things about DIY and DIY culture is that anyone can be involved. That was a really big thing for me with HOR because the audience that I’m trying to attract are people that haven’t really been active in politics. Maybe they’re interested, but they don’t really know what to do. I feel like DIY culture gives people a way to enter into that.
I was looking through the site, and I love your zines. That Burn Book you made calling out politicians is really hilarious.
[laughs] I obviously had to add the Mean Girls reference. I’m pretty much the target generation for that movie. Any girl my age is a massive fan of Mean Girls, or at least should be.
Do you have a favorite quote?
God, there’s so many. ‘You can’t sit with us!’ It’s a classic. Actually, I went to party and I made all these t shirts-
Does that say ‘You Cunt Sit With Us!?’ That’s genius!
Yeah, we were at this party and my ex was coming with his new girlfriend and I was nervously talking about it to my friends the night before. So, we came up with this plan to all wear these t shirts that say ‘You Cunt Sit With Us’ so he would know not to sit with us. Really petty, but it gave me a lot of confidence. [laughs]
So the fashion industry has been changing really rapidly with Hari Nef and Andreja Pejic being two trans models, Winnie Harlow, who has vitiligo. What kind of future are you hoping to see for the fashion world politically speaking?
I love that all of these things are happening. One of the things that really get me about the fashion industry is more in the manufacturing, the fast fashion culture. Being able to buy a dress for less than a cappuccino is wrong. I really think it is moving towards that now. Even having the vernacular now, terms like sustainable fashion’, is a sign of times changing and things happening. It’s mostly the brands enforcing their measures, but they could easily sign a paper that says that they have proper working conditions for their manufacturing. It also has to come from the consumer. They have to realize and follow through with the idea that buying a dress for $4.50 is purely unethical. You can’t get an ethically made garment for that price. That’s really what I want to see change in the fashion industry. I love the growth in the diversity of models, and a huge rise in uni sex clothing available. Gender does not equal sex! All of HOR’s clothing is unisex by the way! [laughs]
Speaking of breaking gender norms, I really loved the Oyster op-ed about growing out armpit hair. Girls really need to hear that.
Aw thank you. I actually recently had to shave it off for a shoot. I felt like a hypocrite. It was a really well paying commercial job so I did it. It was funny though because after I wrote that I really didn’t feel I needed the hair anymore. It felt like it had run its course. I had gotten what I personally needed out of it. It’ll come back though! Someday.
What do you hope HOR grows up into?
Since everything started so suddenly, with no intentions of reach where it has, there was never time to sit a make a plan. I know the message and goal, but as for direction I generally take things as it comes. For the future, I’d really like to get a little more international. I’ve realized that most of these issues are global issues.
So if you could do a really great cover band, who do you choose?
I’m actually developing an all girl Stooges cover band! Ideally next summer, so I can just spend a summer being The Stooges. We’ve work shopped a lot of great names but nothing has stuck yet.
Blond or brunette?
Really depends on what the day of the week we’re talking. Monday is a brunette say, but Friday is definitely blond.
Check out House of Riot here
Shop House of Riot’s new Freedom Collection and all the other sick shirts here
Photography by Byron Spencer
Styling by Kelvin Harries
Hair by Sophie Roberts
Makeup by Nicole Thompson
Models: Sam Harris from Chic, Hirshy from Priscillas, Madeline from IMG, Jay from IMG, Jessie from Jaz Daly Management
Read our interview with Byron Spencer here