It’s fashion with a purpose, the perfect marriage between style and social enterprise. An idea born out of his time living in his native Ghana, Pride of Australia Award 2015 nominee Eric Agyeman went on to establish PVBS, a fashion brand centred on breaking the cycle of poverty through the production of quality street wear and custom school leaver jackets. Every clothing item sold feeds four people in Melbourne, while every school leaver jacket purchased helps fund the education of a child in a developing nation.
Six years on, Agyeman and his team have created buzzing momentum around the unique brand, with more than $20, 300 donated, two schools built and 500 meals provided within Australia and abroad. We had a chat with Agyeman, as well as PVBS head designer Michael Ramos, to learn more about dressing fresh to death – for a good cause.
Eric, you’ve previously mentioned that PVBS was inspired by your time living in Africa. Could you tell us a bit more about your experience there, and how that eventually led to creating a social enterprise?
ERIC: Being back in Africa after having lived in Melbourne, the most liveable city in the world, I saw first hand the realities of poverty, as close to home as some of my nephews not being able to go to school, and kids as young as five selling things on the side of the streets. That’s when I realised, ‘How can the cycle of poverty be broken, if kids that are meant to be in school are on the streets selling?’. My experience made me realise how blessed I am, and that I am in a position to be a blessing.
What inspired the name PVBS?
ERIC: I was reading a book called ‘The Richest Man Who Ever Lived’, a book on King Solomon. The book was all about King Solomon and the book in the bible he wrote called Proverbs. It’s a very relevant book which gives practical everyday wisdom for living life. I did have other names like Mo Cheese, but I’m glad PVBS made the cut.
The PVBS designs are very clean cut, with an over-arching urban/street wear feel to them. Was this the PVBS look you were trying to execute from the beginning, or something that evolved over time?
MICHAEL: I think that was the style we always wanted to achieve, but still wanted to stand out from the rest of the other designs. We still want to evolve from that, and hopefully change things up a bit.
What was it about fashion that made it seem like the perfect avenue to create the sort of impact you envisioned?
ERIC: I’ve always loved fashion from the moment I saw P.Diddy wear suits. For me, fashion is something that adds a layer to my confidence. I love that I can wear something that I can feel so confident in. A friend once said to me, ‘Dress the way you wanna be addressed’. I believe fashion, just like any other industry, can be a force for good in the world!
What sort of background do you come from Michael – have you previously been involved in fashion, or was this a relatively new venture for you when launching PVBS?
MICHAEL: I’ve been a graphic designer for the last 5 years, but mostly all corporate design. With PVBS I can be very creative, really think out of the box and show my skills.
How did you and Eric come to work together?
MICHAEL: I knew Eric through a friend of a friend, and one day he asked me if I wanted to design a few school jumpers. He must have really liked my work, and ask me to be the designer for PVBS.
Who would you cite as entrepreneurial influences/inspirations?
ERIC: Bishop TD Jakes, John C Maxwell, P.Diddy, Blake Mycoskie (founder of Tom’s shoes), Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and my mentor Rony Pozo.
Michael, where do you look to for inspiration when creating designs?
MICHAEL: A lot of my inspiration comes from other designers, I follow either from Instagram, Facebook or Behanced.
Where do you see PVBS in 5 years time?
ERIC: I would like us to be impacting tens of thousands of children, to have access to quality education, and also fund thousands of meals through Foodbank. So, in short, we want to keep growing our market share so we can make a greater impact locally and globally.
One word to describe PVBS?
ERIC: Not sure about one word, but how about one phrase? ‘Change Clothes, Change Lives!’
To learn more about or shop at PVBS, visit their website.