Grey Hearts Denim made custom Black Lives Matter shirts for a Kelowna-based production crew. (Grey Hearts Denim)

Kelowna clothing studio uses fashion to advocate for social justice

Grey Hearts Denim thrived during the pandemic and has been an advocate for change

Kelowna-based streetwear studio Grey Hearts Denim celebrated its one-year anniversary last month and in that time, it’s had its fair share of a wild ride.

Co-owners Sean Whyte and Paul Reyes opened Grey Hearts to the public on Feb. 15, 2020. They had a solid month of normalcy at their studio before the world shut down and people stopped coming for safety reasons.

“It has been wild, for sure. But I tell this to everyone: it’s so hard to have a reference point from the years prior because this is our first year in business,” Reyes said.

“So to us, we don’t really know any better.”

He said all they knew when the pandemic hit was they had to keep going and fight through it.

Whyte said the studio’s business plan already was flexible and was “designed to operate lean”, so they knew they’d be able to weather through the crisis.

“The studio is designed to do a lot of upcycling, re-working and thinking outside of the box and not relying on foot traffic,” Whyte said.

“I think our business plan was constructed flexible enough that we were able to pivot without getting out of who we are and actually being able to define who we are.”

And by defining who they are, Whyte and Reyes mean using their platform – fashion – to be advocates for social change.

Just because customer behaviour changed when the pandemic hit, that didn’t mean they sat back and did nothing, Whyte said, which was why they used their extra hours towards working on social causes.

During the height of summer 2020’s Black Lives Matter rallies, the duo designed socks that spoke to the cause while still being stylish. The proceeds from the socks went to Campaign Zero, an American-based reform campaign that aims to reduce police violence.

From there, they moved on to designing T-shirts, with parts of the proceeds also going to Campaign Zero.

Most recently, Whyte and Reyes heard about an incident at a Vancouver production: a crew member was asked to change out of their Black Lives Matter shirt or go home. The crew member was told that the phrase sounded like hate speech.

So when a Christmas movie started filming in Kelowna, the movie’s producer reached out to Grey Hearts and asked them to produce over 70 Black Lives Matter shirts for the cast and crew to support the Vancouver crew member.

“It just happened to fall into our lap. They came to us and asked us if we were willing to make more of the shirts that we’d already been making to donate to charity,” Whyte said.

“It was just a beautiful thing to be able to put our money where our mouths were and effect some change.”

The duo said they’re not stopping there. They currently are talking with other community groups, this time, to become allies for the Asian community as it sees increased instances of discrimination due to the pandemic.

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Twila Amato
Video journalist, Black Press Okanagan
Email me at twila.amato@blackpress.ca
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