Gerard McKenzie Govan set up a social enterprise to help some of the most vulnerable people in society. He speaks about his work and why he's based in the West End.
What brings you to the West End?
The culture in the West End is supportive of small independent businesses and this is right up our street. The shop on Great Western Road opened in September 2020 and it was an 18-month project to get us here. We’re lucky to be surrounded by some brilliant businesses. Before I launched The Blankfaces I worked in retail and fashion, and before that in an office. I changed paths to follow my heart and my head - and set up this social enterprise. I’m happy to say I’ve never looked back and the West End has welcomed us with open arms.
Where did the name The Blankfaces come from?
It's the term used for people who are experiencing homelessness - the blank face that nobody notices. I wanted to take the term and turn it into something positive and tangible which had the power to highlight the people - the sons, daughters, mothers, sisters, dads who experience homelessness.
How does your social enterprise function?
We’re a fashion and lifestyle business that stocks T shirts, jackets, sweatshirts, hoodies, hats, bags, and facemasks - lots of merchandise for kids and adults of every shape and size. Every single garment we have has a story behind it, as each piece is designed by someone who has experienced what it means to be homeless. It can tell us their story of their life and how they've got to that point. All our pieces are ethically and sustainably produced.
How does buying from The Blankfaces make a difference?
Every time someone buys something, the person who has designed the piece gets a percentage of every product sold. The rest of the profits at the end of the year, when everything's paid for, are ploughed back into the business and divided between the small grassroot homeless charities we partner with. This includes the Marie Trust, Y People and The Lodging House Mission.
What type of people support The Blankfaces?
People come from all over the city to support our work. Being here in the vibey West End, we get a lot of students in, and people who love stylish clothing spend their hard-earned cash with us. They appreciate what we do and how we do it - our design ethos, the quality of our garments - and they spend their money considerately. We have doctors, lawyers, musicians, artists, nurses, you name it - they all appreciate the laid-back vibe of the shop and what we offer.
Are there other ways to support your work?
We’re always looking for volunteers to work in our shops. We have another location in Buchanan Galleries, and we have several events where we need extra support. So, if you have free time and you’d like to work with us, pop in and say hi. We also have a table tennis table which was kindly donated by Table Tennis Scotland, so if any passionate players of any age and ability fancy a game, pop in! We love collaborating with like-minded individuals and brands because it really is all about teamwork, supporting each other and bringing out the best in people.
Every time someone buys something, the person who has designed the piece gets a percentage of every product sold.
Gerard McKenzie Govan
What’s the deal with Monday coffee mornings?
We started hosting coffee mornings a few months ago. We partnered with Dear Green Coffee, and it proved so popular we’ve decided to run it all day. Cottonrake Bakery supply lovely cakes and pastries too and people can pop in throughout the day. We invite a lot of people from the homeless community to pop in as well. It’s just about giving people a bit of warmth and a bit of a safe space to chat and just hang out.
What are you excited about this year?
Spring stock is in and summer is just around the corner, and we have a whole raft of new designs and colourways in the pipeline. All our stock is available to buy online or in our two stores. We’re looking at expanding to England with a store in Manchester, and I’d love to open more locations in Scotland, maybe Edinburgh. Short-term we’ll be doing some pop up and awareness events in Glasgow throughout the year.