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HomemifashionThe Brotherhood of Eyewear

The Brotherhood of Eyewear

You may be surprised to hear that Mod-Style Eyewear is run by The Brotherhood of St Laurence, a non-for-profit organisation who work on not just alleviating poverty but their aim is to prevent poverty. mivision spoke to the Brotherhood to find out how this unlikely synergy came about.

“It is a very interesting story actually,” says Jeff Moon, General Manager of the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

“Royce Jackson was the owner of Mod-Style, which he started in 1981 and had been running very successfully for almost 20 years. By the year 2000 though, Royce had reached the point where he was looking to retire. He said this to the Minister at his local church, who also happened to be chair of the board of the Brotherhood. The Minister said he was interested in acquiring Mod-Style to add to the charity’s range of businesses.

“But before the Brotherhood could purchase the company, it had to do some research into the eye care industry. Mod-Style had an enticing professional proposition, but the Brotherhood had to make sure there was significant social and ethical value for the community.”

After some careful consideration, the Brotherhood realised there was a significant opportunity with Mod-Style to get involved in helping people who could not afford adequate eye care

After some careful consideration, the Brotherhood realised there was a significant opportunity with Mod-Style firstly as a commercial business where all the revenue goes back into the charity and secondly to assist in helping people who could not afford adequate eye care. “For example, last year we gave away AUD$20,000 worth of frames through our programs for the disadvantaged and outreach programs.

“So in the end, Royce got what he wanted by being able to exit the business and the Brotherhood was able to purchase a profitable business that fitted in with its social values.”

Who Is ‘St. Laurence’?

While you may not have heard of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence before, chances are, last time you were reading the MyCareer section of the Herald you saw that there was a ‘Volunteer’ section. It is through these volunteer positions or work placements organised by Centrelink that people usually make contact with the Brotherhood.

As Marketing Manager Emma Hoppe puts it; “We are here to help people build better lives.”

The Brotherhood of St Laurence was established during the Great Depression as the vision and creation of Father Gerard Tucker, a man who combined his Christian faith with a fierce determination to end social injustice.

Father Tucker named the charity after ‘Saint Laurence’, the patron saint of the poor. Which is fitting, as the Brotherhood’s main purpose is working towards an Australia free of poverty.

“The idea behind the Brotherhood is that you work with all different areas of the community,” says Jeff. “Our aim is to address the unmet needs of the disadvantaged in innovative ways. We translate our learning from research and services into new policies, new programs and practices which can be implemented by the government and other large organisations,” Jeff says.

Expanding The Business

For most of its life Mod-Style has only manufactured optical frames, but in the last 12 months the company has extended its line and is now expanded into specialised sunglasses.

“We saw a niche market,” says Jeff. “We wanted to provide a sports optical solution. A lot of people wanted to play sport but had problems because of the particular mechanisms of their eyewear. So all our sunglasses are prescriptable but they also have features that would be beneficial for sportspeople. For example, fit-on prescription lenses, and soft lenses so in the case of accidents, our customers won’t damage their eyes.”

“We are only interested in entering the specialised areas of sunwear,” adds Emma. “We see the sunglass area as a variable and competitive market and that does not fit our business model or seem to be the most responsible direction for Mod-Style’s stock investment. Thus our sunwear is primarily technical focused rather than focused on fashion. It serves a purpose.”

“However, in optical the story is slightly different. The Mod-Style frames are fashion-focused, but the value is that they are affordable and good quality fashion frames.”

Changing Lives

Jeff explains that Mod-Style is just one of several of the Brotherhood’s commercial businesses, which combined represent about 35 per cent of the Brotherhood’s generated income/revenue, which is around AUD$50million per annum.

Mod-Style is run as a commercial business, but instead of the profits going to the owners, they are invested back into the community.

The profits received from Mod-Style, as well as the Brotherhood’s other commercial businesses make a significant impact upon the charity’s operations and activities, whether as part of a national policy or a campaign to influence the Government through evidence-based research.

“It is all-encompassing,” explains Jeff.

“Basically, all of our charities are focused around building better lives for customers and the larger community.”

The Brotherhood’s ‘Changing Lives’ program is a good example of this as it “helps people through the four transitional stages they have in their lives,” says Jeff. “The first stage is ‘the early years’, the second is the ‘school to work’ transitional period, the third stage goes through ‘in and out of work’ and finally to the fourth stage, ‘retirement and aging’.”

“So the money generated from our commercial businesses like Mod-Style makes a significant impact upon the employment, jobs and training opportunities we provide for people who are experiencing difficulties through each of these four stages of the ‘Changing Lives’ program.”

“We have a lot of volunteers working with us who are looking to gain confidence to get back to the workforce,” says Emma. “All of our businesses interact very well. It is like a whole web working together and for other people and the community at large.

“The volunteers who come to us choose what areas they are interested in learning about and working in. For example, they could be learning how glasses frames are put together; they could do data entry and administration or even work in a warehouse. The sky is really the limit as we have so many different experiences to offer them from our range of businesses. Sometimes our candidates chop and change, trying different things out. Many of our staff have gone on to achieve full-time jobs due to the volunteer work they do with us. Similarly, many of our trainees go on to get jobs, often well paid jobs.

“It is our hope that all the people that start off with us as volunteers will become paid trainees,” says Jeff. “And then if they wish, start applying for jobs. That’s the pathway we have set in place.”

“We hope to offer people all of the skills they require to get a job. For example, we will even do mock interviews with them if they need help in that area! There was an example recently of a girl we helped get a job, who six months before was so low on self-confidence she couldn’t even apply for one.”

The Brotherhood also takes graduates from Melbourne University to give them hands-on job experience to put in their portfolio. ‘At the moment we have three graduates doing work experience with us in the areas of IT and finance, ” says Jeff.

“Also, through RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) we are looking at introducing scholarships for young fashion designers for a new eyewear range we have on the radar called ‘Espy’. The initial range is due out mid-year, then once it has been rolled out we will get the students involved. The profits will go to a trust fund which will go to help disadvantaged students.

“These are just some of the social outcomes of the Brotherhood and the businesses we own like Mod-Style.”