Clime-it Brothers Interview
We recently announced Clime-it Brothers as the newest charity to be supported by Conscious Colossus in the second year of the initiative. Ed Acteson caught up with Mo, the founder of Clime-it Brothers, to find out exactly who they are and what they do.
Who are Clime-It Brothers?
Clime-it Brothers are a social enterprise clothing brand based in Camden in London. We are a fashion brand with a conscience that also serves as a contemporary educational project through the Clime-it Brothers Academy.
How did Clime-it Brothers begin?
Clime-it Brothers began in 2013 as a project to help young people develop skills. When you look at kids from a negative background, a lot of the skills that they lack can be found in retail. It wasn’t that I was desperate to get into fashion, I looked at different areas such as food but there are lots of complications and regulations around it so the next thing I considered was designing t-shirts.
When I started Clime-it brothers it was about helping young people to climb the ladder of success but I also understood that there is a lack of understanding about environmental change in urban youngsters. So what’s the point of having ‘Just Do It’ on a t-shirt when we could have something explaining deforestation or the droughts in Africa. A lot of the kids I’m working with are from Africa and there’s a lot of climate change happening in that region so you can’t keep thinking that climate change is a middle class, white problem.
My aim is to help young people of all colours and backgrounds but you can’t hide away from the statistics, black people have some of the highest numbers when it comes to prison or unemployment for example. It costs so much money to put one young person in prison for a year, tens of thousands of pounds, and I’m trying to show how we can keep them out of prison for a fraction of that.
I came up with the motif of a polar bear, an animal that has had to adapt to his environment to survive. These youngsters have got to do the same, adapting to their environments and moving away from the risk that they face on a day to day basis. Soon I realised that if we wanted to change the environment and have a positive impact, then we actually need to change the people. The world won’t change by itself, people need to change what they’re doing, so my focus returned to the people who I always wanted to help, young people with entrepreneurial spirit but who had just chosen the wrong product.
What is your background and what led you to Clime-it Brothers?
I actually came from a good background. My dad was an ambassador to Kenya in the 1980s. I was born in Nairobi and when I was about five we came to London, ending up in Camden. I was doing all the things that young people do but experienced a big change when I moved from a house to a block. Suddenly there was 30 different families living in the same block which exposed me to things I hadn’t seen before.
In council estates you see a lot of young people without role models and I was fascinated by that lifestyle. The way I spoke began to change and I started to use urban street slang. Then my company changed too. I had problems from primary school onwards, it was behavioural problems but they kept saying it was learning problems which was frustrating.
I was recently going through old boxes in my house and I found old arrest reports. I was only 12 or 13 and getting arrested for things like robbery. Really I got caught up in the mentality of thinking that I was a failure and that’s all the teachers kept telling me. They said that I would end up in prison or wouldn’t get a job. I let people’s opinions become my reality. It was a horrible time but I never let it show because on the streets there’s no emotion. If you smile too much you’re weird, if you cry you’re weak.
Then I got into selling drugs through living on the estates. I knew that I could get drugs cheap through the drug dealers living there and that I could sell it to make a profit, so that’s how I got caught up in the drugs scene in Camden. It was a short term fix for a long term problem but it made me who I am now and taught me what I know. For example, I have proved to myself that you can escape that life and become successful but one of the myths of the street is that once you get a criminal record you can’t get a job. So I want to teach the students that just because they’ve had a bad past doesn’t mean they can’t turn it around and I help them do that through education and learning skills.
What is the Clime-It Brothers Academy?
The Clime-It Brothers Academy is a contemporary educational system that merges education with employment. So the idea is to help youngsters develop the life skills that they need to improve their situation.
Success in the academy comes through a points-based system. We want the parents to have a role as well so every Friday I’ll contact all the parents and tell them how their child has done that week. So they’ll get points for punctuality, communication, the language they use, concentration and teamwork of course.
Helping others is really important so we have a scheme where every person has a box with their name on it. Other students are encouraged to leave them a note saying something positive about them. At the start and end of the day we’ll take something out of the box and read it as it’s so good to hear positivity about yourself.
These young people are doing a lot of negative things to get a reaction so we try to change them to a positive mindset. We want to get them thinking “I can do that”. So all this positive reinforcement helps them earn points which, at the end of the week, are converted into minutes and hours of usage of the machines in our workshop. That’s the goal and they have to go through the barriers to meet that goal.
What kind of skills do the students learn?
Communication skills, for example. We try to help them to change the way they speak, the tone of their voice and their attitude. It’s hard to do that in real life, improving your communication by speaking to strangers on the street, but we give them the chance to do that in a social setting. So the shop is a great opportunity for the youngsters to practice this, as customers coming into the shop gives them a reason to communicate.
We have a sign up in the shop labelling it a no-slang zone and the challenge for these guys is to get by without using this language that they’d use most of the time normally. It’s a good way to get people socially integrated back into society by helping them to escape the language spoken by gangs. Urban street slang is 85-90% negative language and they’re speaking that all day. There’s a reason behind the anti-social behaviour, the hoods and the angry faces and it’s the minimal language that they’re speaking.
Really it’s all about education and teamwork. We try to give them the keys to life, the tools that they need to make something of themselves. To help them understand that the language they use is damaging to their mindset, their goals, their ambitions and everything else.
Purchasing products from the store leads to education for your students. How does that work?
Every product that I sell has a price on it and that price equates to minutes of education. We have a board on the shop floor which has LED lights on both sides. One side tells the customers how many minutes of education we’ve raised and the other says how many minutes we’ve used. So if someone buys a product for £60, that will earn 60 minutes worth of education for another young person.
This education comes in two different phases. One is for the youngsters coming straight off the street to learn and develop their language, to try and get them a form of ID like a passport and to open a bank account. These small things that most of us take for granted, a lot of these young people don’t have. They can’t escape and go to Barcelona, or wherever, so it’s trying to give them the ability to be independent. It’s pretty chilled to begin with, I might get them in for three days a week and give them small jobs here and there so they can make a bit of money whilst tracking their progress.
The second phase is for the youngsters who have completed that and who I have seen make strong progress. I get them in for part-time work for maybe 60 hours per month on the living wage, so all week round the shop is run by young people.
Can you tell us about your partnership with Conscious Colossus?
I met Charlotte Farr in the shop and explained to her my project. I explain it to a lot of people and some remember it, some don’t but I could tell that she was one of the people who was genuinely interested in what we are doing. A lot of people are just talk and claim that they want to support us but don’t really do anything when it comes down to it.
With Conscious Colossus I think that betting is often seen as bad but I think it’s what you do with the money. If you guys are willing to help me out and help these guys out then that’s a really positive thing.
So I’m all about action and a lot of people are talk but you guys stepped up and wanted to support my project so that’s great. We had other businesses who have expressed interest in the past but I think what was good with you guys was that it wasn’t just a donation but the fact that you offered to send people from different departments in to give talks and share their skills so that’s going to be really valuable.
How can people support Clime-It Brothers?
You can support Clime-it Brothers by supporting the academy. Customers will have the opportunity to buy products designed by the young people in our project both online and in-store from early Spring 2021. However, if you are local to London you can also support by visiting our flagship retail store in the heart of Camden Market.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I think the project is so big that it could become a school. If I don’t think big then what’s the point? You have to think outside the box and the plan is to turn this educational programme that creates job opportunities into a school.
I can see us expanding into other cities but the first thing is to focus on London. It’s a big place and we’re currently only working in North London so the next step is to start a project like this in South London as there’s a lot of need for creativity in that area as well.
So we’ll keep focussing, keep getting better, keep helping more people and creating more opportunities to get closer to that ultimate goal of opening a Clime-It Brothers school.