If you don't already...

Words by

Eliza Sholly

Ollie Henderson is a name you might have heard over the last few years. The model-slash-activist has featured in some of the world’s biggest publications – but not for the reasons you may think.

While living in New York, Ollie found herself frustrated with the political climate back home in Australia. This frustration inspired the model to create her organisation, House of Riot.

Since its inception, House of Riot has been praised as a movement that encourages young people to speak up about causes they personally care about. It has also seen Ollie handpicked as one of Westfield’s style leaders for its new campaign. Titled ‘The Front Line’, the initiative aims to celebrate the progressive individuals who are challenging the status quo.

We caught up with Ollie, learning more about House of Riot and where she stands on some of the country’s biggest issues.

What is it like being Westfield’s newest style leader?

It’s such an honour to be included in this campaign. The style leaders selected are being recognised both on and off the catwalk, which is really nice.

How are you challenging the status quo?

With House of Riot. Our main aim is to encourage young people to speak up and use their voice to be politically engaged.

What inspired you to start House of Riot?

It first started two years ago during Fashion Week. I was living in New York at the time and I was preparing to come back home; Australian Fashion Week was just starting. I was feeling really frustrated with the political climate in Australia at the time and I felt like I had to use this opportunity for my voice to be heard. So I hand-painted 100 T-shirts with positive political slogans on them, and gave them to my friends and colleagues to wear during Fashion Week.

Was it an organic process?

Definitely. The whole project was supposed to last the week of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and it sort of flowed on from there. I worked with each individual to discuss the issues they cared about, figuring out what they wanted to say. The movement is all about empowering an individual to speak up about the issue they care about. I would never be so bold as to tell someone what is or isn’t important to them. 

What has the reaction been like?

It’s been overwhelmingly positive. I get so many amazing messages on email and social media from individuals all over the world telling me how House of Riot has inspired them to speak up and take their first action.

I guess the initial reaction I wasn’t prepared for. I thought maybe a few local or smaller media outlets might pick it up, but it really blew up in the media. We were recognised in American Vogue, French Elle, across Brazil and Asia – it was really unexpected.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing our country today?

I think there are two [issues] that really stay in my mind constantly. Firstly, I think Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees is extremely unjust and something we should rectify as soon as possible. 

Also, the mother of all problems: climate change. I think this is a massive issue that’s affecting not only us in Australia, but globally – particularly in our neighbouring islands. Those would be the two that resonate the most for me, personally.

Do you think it’s important for models to use their audience or following to bring light to greater social issues?

I would say that it’s a great opportunity. That’s one of the great things about being an ambassador for Westfield, because they have given me the opportunity to speak about not only my work with them in fashion, but also the work that I do outside of that.

How would you define your personal style?

Currently I’m really into suiting. I’m all over a crisp white shirt. Bring it on.

What’s the biggest misconception about the modelling industry?

That models are stupid. I have met some really incredible, intelligent and creative models that are doing really amazing and positive things.

Quickfire Questions:

I never leave the house without…
 my keys.
One beauty trend I hate is… excessive contouring.
My favourite show to binge watch is… Stranger Things.
Mum says I… work too much.
My favourite place is… my girlfriend’s bed.
The best advice I’ve ever received is… what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
One career I’d love to attempt is… astronaut, obviously.


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