Hope Is My Homeboy: How a fashion label was launched to tackle mental health

Rutu King-Hazel and her late brother Whero used to make clothing together – pulling all-nighters to whip a garment into shape, with King-Hazel serving as a mannequin.

Whero was a talented sewer – he made ball gowns for clients in Wellington, and entered a creation into the World of Wearable Arts.

But all that talent was tragically lost 10 years ago when Whero took his own life at the age of 21.

“He was the kindest and most selfless person I knew,” King-Hazel said. She remembers his big heart, how he was always the life and soul of the party.

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King-Hazel (Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāi Tahu, Te Atiawa, Tūhoe) also lost her father to suicide when she was 10.

The question that consumed her in the aftermath of these losses, was ‘why?’, which King-Hazel explored in her YouTube video on Losing a Loved One.

“I’ve learnt that it’s normal to play this question over and over in your head,” she said.

“We’re wired to find answers, especially when traumatic things happen to us, and to be honest, there’s no simple answer for this … I learnt to accept the unresolved answers in my heart.”

In the aftermath of Whero’s death, King-Hazel and her whānau felt called to action.

“As a creative family, we were just sitting there like looking at all his garments and gowns, and we were thinking, ‘well, we’re not that talented. We can’t sew and make all this stuff’,” King- Hazel recalled.

“We thought, how can we honour his life and spread the message of hope?”

Mikayla Stanbridge-Brien, Laura Phipps, Rutu King-Hazel, and Lara Tutty model Hope is my Homeboy sweats.


Mikayla Stanbridge-Brien, Laura Phipps, Rutu King-Hazel, and Lara Tutty model Hope is my Homeboy sweats.

The whānau settled on creating a clothing brand, Hope is my Homeboy, in 2012, to spread that message.

Clothing and fashion “brought my brother purpose and joy, so it only felt right to do something with that element attached to it”, King-Hazel said.

The venture was a success – Mike King wore the sweatshirts around New Zealand promoting mental health on tour, but grief got the better of the family, who needed time out to work through their loss.

“We closed it down a bit over the last few years to just heal and process and regather,” King-Hazel said.

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“I went through a stage where I needed to recoup and deal with grief … it’s just a beautiful thing once you’re healed or in a good place to just pass it on.”

Now, she says, she’s in a better space and a better position to get involved and help and support others struggling with their mental health.

This month, King-Hazel is relaunching the clothing collection to raise funds for mental health and suicide prevention, with all proceeds going to Mike King’s I AM HOPE foundation, which helps pay counselling fees for youth who cannot afford them.

The hoodies and track pants are bought ready-made, but Nelson based King-Hazel does the heat pressing, designing, sizing and production herself, with support from Te Rau Ora’s Māori Community Suicide Prevention Fund.

She’s also been given a hand by businesses that have offered either promotion, discounts, or services free of charge like Courier NZ, Ambitious IT, Branding NZ, Oxygen IT, Lumiere NZ, and Afterpay.

Through her brand, she hopes to “remind people to slow down and be present and just be there”, by checking in on each other, ringing a friend, ringing a family member and asking ‘how are you?’, and ‘how are you really?’

“Just listening, and not necessarily coming up with solutions or any type of thing like that. It’s more just about being there.”

Where to get help

  • 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor.
  • Anxiety New Zealand 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
  • 0800 111 757 or text 4202
  • Kidsline 0800 54 37 54 for people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7.
  • Lifeline 0800 543 354
  • Mental Health Foundation 09 623 4812, click here to access its free resource and information service.
  • Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254
  • Samaritans 0800 726 666
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Yellow Brick Road 0800 732 825
  • Web chat, email chat or free text 5626
  • What’s Up 0800 942 8787 (for 5 to 18-year-olds). Phone counselling available Monday-Friday, noon-11pm and weekends, 3pm-11pm. Online chat is available 3pm-10pm daily.
  • Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234, email, or find online chat and other support options here.
  • If it is an emergency, click here to find the number for your local crisis assessment team.
  • In a life-threatening situation, call 111.

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