The ARK angel of fashion
In the past two years twenty-year-old Cameron Stewart has launched Ark° and managed to place it firmly on the Irish fashion map. He also beat 250 other start-ups to win the Ireland Am Start Your Own Business competition worth €10,000. But, as Cameron wants to remind us all, it's not all about the money...
?rk° - Acts of Random Kindness, what's it all about?
It's a new way of life pursued through a new kind of clothing. I wanted to inspire a movement of people to be kind and create a brand that could reflect where people's new values and priorities are. I thought the best way was to link the idea of performing Acts of Random Kindness with fashion, so people could look good while doing good. The idea is that you perform one ?rk° every time you wear the clothing. It's a simple reminder to be kind, and a symbol to inspire everyone else that sees it. Not bad from a T-shirt!
Where did the idea originate?
Well, I've always considered myself an entrepreneur and from the age of 14 I was importing clothes from China and selling them on my online store on eBay. Not your average part-time job, but I made a mint! When I was 17 I just started thinking about life and the way I should be living it. It struck me that when all the pretences are stripped away we're here for a short time so we may as well be in it together. I looked around at a society that reinforces the message that everyone should look after themselves and I wanted to counteract that in my own personal way. An Act of Random Kindness is the easiest and most profound way to do that so I just started doing simple things like giving up my seat on the bus, having lunch with homeless people, and paying for the odd car filling-up at the petrol station, obviously before running off to avoid the classically awkward "what are you doing" situation!
Did college interfere with your entrepreneurial appetite?
Well, around the time ?rk° kicked off I was thinking about what I wanted to do in college and realised I didn't want to go to at all! All my heroes are entrepreneurs so I knew I was going to start my own business. Just before my A-levels I was on a hike in the Wicklow mountains and the idea came to me to combine what I was doing with what I was living. So clothing and kindness came together and ?rk° was born. The ?° logo is the Sugar Loaf mountaintop I was looking at when the flash of inspiration came to me. The ° to its right is a secret that not even my co-director knows.
What's the best ARK you've heard someone doing while wearing one of your tees?
It has to be ?rk°'s other director Ronan who went to Grafton Street with a sign saying "Deluxe Hugs: 1 Euro". Within an hour he raised 31 euro and used it to bring a homeless man out for a big meal in an Italian restaurant. It worked on so many levels and really shows the impact you can make in a person's day. There's a nice video of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Z6QGB1xuhg
Is it really all about the social side, or are you in it for the money?
Ah, you're onto my evil plans! It's funny because when I started ?rk° I could see the massive potential for making lots of money, but I realised that the power of ?rk° could be so much more if all the money it made went toward achieving our social vision of reconnecting society. The beauty of ?rk° is that it has the potential to bring about individual and collective change. First with the purchase you and many others make having the ability to fund projects, and secondly with the action you take when you wear the brand.
You've just launched a new range of underwear - tell me about it? Any other plans for expanding the range?
Yea, ?rk° underwear, for undercover kindness! Well ?rk° is all about making this whole way of life fun for people so we couldn't resist making some really cool underwear to get people out there ?rk°-ing on the sly. It's a cool concept to have a pair of underwear on and know that at some point in the day (or night!) you're going to get out there and do something special for someone else. I think the secrecy is strangely liberating.
You plan to have Vladamir Putin in a pair of ?rk° briefs very soon. Why?
The guy needs a change of attitude and we feel it starts with a change of underwear! We want him to wear ?rk° as he's forever in a pissed-off mood or doing something mean to some body/country so perhaps if he was reminded to do an ?rk° he'll experience this more enlightened way of life. Who knows? The kindness reprogramming may reveal a kinder, gentler Putin. I also think that he wouldn't be too keen on wearing our tees as it may hinder his tough man image, but a pair of boxers may be the perfect excuse he needs to engage with us.
Would you consider sending Brian Cowen a pair?
I just think Brian Cowen needs to be ?rk°-ed, full stop! Whatever you say about him, he's trying his best and is under serious pressure. Why not? We'll send a pair over to the Department of Taoiseach. Fingers crossed he's reconsidering the budget the day he wears them
Who is ?rk°'s dream celebrity client - male and female?
We don't buy into the whole cult of the celebrity. Celebrities are just people and if they are interested in ?rk°, we're happy for them to wear it, whether they are photographed or not. Ultimately, we want authentic people - my girl is Nathalie Portman. She's well-educated, very professional, full of flair, doesn't take herself too seriously and she has a big heart. My guy would be Xavier Rudd. I went to see him recently in the Academy. He's got soul, and it's ?rk° to the core.
Can we buy in store or are you selling exclusively online?
Exclusively online at ArkHQ.com. While there are obviously huge benefits to going retail, we want people to really understand the idea before they buy, which is really achieved when you visit our HQ, but can be lost on the aisles. It's not just about buying a tee, it's about joining our global movement and being a part of the journey we make as a company.
What's next for ?rk°?
We're currently executing a big marketing strategy on university campuses in Ireland. We're also planning a media tour and lots of Geurrilla Marketing stunts in the UK and United States to establish a more international presence. Finally, we'll be launching the first social action project, a primary schools initiative in Dublin that empowers kids to look at the problems in their community and imagine a unique solution form their perspective.