Haus of Armour’s founder, Kate Jackson, is driven by two forces: purpose and style.
Her love affair with fashion began at the tender age of seven when she became besotted with a pair of white cowboy boots in a shoe store.
“They had tassels and a silver star and everything,” Kate recalls wistfully. “It was the height of the eighties, and I begged Mum to get them for me. She told me I could do some chores and save up my own money to buy them, so that’s exactly what I did!”
Kate’s passion for fashion hasn’t waned a day since. Let her loose in an op shop, a weekend market or an online vintage store and you can be guaranteed that she will emerge with the most envy-inducing finds.
“For me, clothes are like my second skin,” she says. “The outfits I wear are an extension of myself and my passions; they show the essence of who I am.”
Kate’s knack for assembling one-of-a-kind outfits and interiors was the foundation of an early career styling people and places.
For more than 12 years her work as a high-end interior designer, decorator and stylist took her across the world from Melbourne to London, Dubai and Asia, yet she yearned to do more – to make a difference beyond mere beautification.
Pivot to purpose
Feeling burned out and disillusioned, Kate booked a holiday to Kenya where she ended up doing volunteer work. The trip was life changing. Upon returning to Australia, she decided to pursue a new career in social work.
“For eight years I worked with young people and their families who were highly marginalised, often experiencing homelessness and moving in and out of the prison system,” Kate explains.
“It wasn’t light-hearted work. I spent my days with young men who struggled with significant substance abuse and mental health issues, but I knew I was in the right place.
“I never wanted to save the world, I just wanted to walk alongside and be in the corner of people who’d never had anyone in their corner before,” she says.
It was while working with young men in prison that Kate first saw the potential of using fashion to make a difference.
“Every time I walked onto the prison unit all the young guys would have something to say about my outfits. They’d say, ‘Where’d you get that from Kate – you look like you got dressed in an op shop!’
“These young people had been completely de-identified while in custody. They were all in standard issue tracksuits, but they were used to wearing Tommy Hilfiger or Lacoste because for them, it’s all about street cred, and those brands were their currency.”
“I could see there was an opportunity to help people reclaim their sense of identity through fashion, for instance when they were coming out of the prison system. I sensed this might be a way I could pull my two loves together: fashion AND making some kind of difference in people’s lives.”
Style and substance
The idea for Haus of Armour came to Kate in 2020 during Melbourne’s pandemic lockdown.
“It was one of those ideas that literally woke me up at night,” she says. “It was this idea of using clothes to transform and recreate a sense of self, inside and out. I got up straight away and wrote everything down.”
After poring over the research of enclothed cognition, which describes the impact clothing has on a wearer’s psychological processes, based on the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them, Kate knew she was on the right path.
“The science proves that what we wear can change the way we think,” she says. “The clothes we wear can affect our behaviour, our personality, our mood, our confidence and even the way we interact with other people.
“This is the science that underpins the work of Haus of Armour; it’s not about fluffy makeovers.”
Kate chose to focus Haus of Armour on helping survivors of domestic violence. After relocating to the Northern Rivers, she redirected her social work focus to help women navigate a new life away from violence in the home.
“I knew that I had to work with these women on the front lines before I could create this program,” Kate explains. “Being able to adapt the work of Haus of Armour to meet their real needs was critical.”
The complexity of domestic violence as an issue has also fostered many misconceptions which have been slow to fade.
“Domestic violence is not just about physical violence – it can be coercive control, emotional, psychological or financial abuse and even social abuse,” Kate explains. “The root of it all is about power and control.”
“For a long time, domestic violence was seen as an anger issue on the man’s behalf. In the past, the courts would mandate that the perpetrator take part in an anger management course. But in fact, the root cause is a sense of being entitled to have power and control over the woman in whichever way that presents itself.
“Another misconception is that domestic violence only affects a certain ‘type’ of woman. It doesn’t,” Kate says.
“Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate, it’s everywhere. It affects women who are well-off professionals to some of the most marginalised women in our society. It’s also the number one cause of homelessness among women and children in Australia.
“Here in the Northern Rivers, where rents have increased as much as $150 a week, it’s compounded what is already an extremely challenging issue.”
The late photographer, Bill Cunningham, famously described fashion as “the armour to survive the reality of everyday life” and Kate says she couldn’t agree more.
“So many of the women I work with have had their self-esteem and sense of self completely undermined by years of psychological and emotional abuse,” she explains.
“When a survivor of domestic violence has to sit in a courtroom and prove the level of abuse they’ve been subjected to, we’re going to need an outfit that helps them feel strong and empowered, like they can take this on.
“When they feel as though they’ve got a suit of armour on, they’re able to step into those spaces with so much more confidence and feeling strong within themselves.”
During Haus of Armour’s inaugural 16 Days of Activism Kate provided a custom styling session and three outfits each day for Northern Rivers survivors of domestic violence.
“During 16 Days of Activism I heard over and over again how much the styling session and new clothes helped them feel seen. That they felt like themselves again after having lost so much of themselves from the years of abuse. Also, some women leave domestic violence situations with only the clothes on their back, so it gives them the opportunity to rebuild their wardrobe too.
“The experience of 16 Days of Activism confirmed for me that Haus of Armour can help reconnect these women with their sense of self and their self-worth so that they can recreate themselves both inside and out.”
Learn more about the Haus of Armour