Streetwear label speaks up about gender inequality

Every dollar we spend is a monetary vote, demonstrating demand and indicating what we deem valuable. From plastic bottles to cotton T-shirts – what we choose to consume has short and long-term impacts on the lives of people.

LISNUP is a modern streetwear label that goes beyond the latest trends. Instead, each item gives consumers an opportunity to donate a part of the cost to a charity of their choice.

Adam Khafif, founder of LISNUP, started the streetwear line at age 15 with a vision to rally people to ‘listen up’ and support the issues of the day. Today, his social enterprise inspires a fashion-forward and social media literate generation to pay attention to issues such as human trafficking, youth homelessness, and gender inequality.

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 1.49.04 pm

“The current logo is inspired by Basquiat, who said ‘I cross out words so you will see them more. The fact that they’re obscured makes you want to read them.’ I felt this fits perfectly with what I’m trying to accomplish – making people pay attention in one way or another.”

LISNUP takes a spin on the social enterprise model – giving consumers the option to select where their money is invested.

“The point of LISNUP is that each person takes away something different, from both the message and the mission. I choose nonprofits that each focus on a different cause to allow for a more personalized experience for the buyer.”

For Adam, the collaboration between a message and a design is an organic process that cannot be forced. In some instances, it can take up to two years to conceptualise the right design to pair with an issue, and every message on a LISNUP collaboration is personal to Adam.

“Usually, a theme, a lyric or a quote will sit in my head for a while before I work on it. I never want to force a message or force a process… Over time I think of different messages and different visuals, and try to pair them up in my head…,” explained Adam.

Hype and street cred are important currencies for fashion designers and streetwear enthusiasts but for Adam, his streetwear designs involve a conversation about complex issues of the day.

“I chose streetwear because I saw fashion as music… It’s a blank canvas, the same as a beat, and it’s up to the designer to write to it.

A shirt is a track, with endless possibilities. You can sing on it or rap on it, you can choose to put out a meaningful message or you can put out something that just sounds good.

Introducing ‘Career Woman’:

‘Career Woman’ is LISNUP’s most recent collab. On the canvas of a blue Champion crewneck, a pop art image of a crying woman is depicted with the text “what do I need to do to get paid like a man?”

The idea presented itself as Adam witnessed his wife’s ongoing battle for fair wages and realised the breadth and depth of gender inequality.

I’m married to an incredible journalist/entrepreneur and I’ve seen the Hell that she goes through trying to get paid fairly, so it’s definitely been at top of mind the last few years…” he said.

CW_ 1

The career woman line first caught my eye on Instagram for its bold colours and exclusivity, the caption stating “The only way to get access to this new piece is to DM @Adamkhafif on IG for the password.”

So I reached out to him (#fangirl) and here’s what Adam had to say about the Career Woman line:

It’s a full-circle concept…

Champion sweaters, popular in the 90s, made a comeback into pop culture through a series of versatile collaborations with coveted streetwear brands such as Supreme, Vetements, Undefeated and A Bathing Ape. The iconic logo has since been revived, picked up by icons Chance the Rapper and Kylie Jenner.

Adam strategically aligned his message with the Champion brand, recalling his childhood home where his parents’ closet was stocked with Champion sweaters.

Since pop art gives off a retro feel, using a brand that gives off a similar nostalgia just adds to the full-circle concept,” he said.

With a multi-layered message

When Adam commissioned his idea to artist Kara Underwood, he noticed the ‘whiteness’ of historic pop art and the lack of mainstream pop art pieces that represent minorities.

The first version was unimpressive, and by that I mean, it looked like every other pop art piece: white.

After discussions with his wife, exploring how factors like race and sexual orientation can affect gender discrimination, the design was iterated to feature an ethnically ambiguous character.

The layers are my favourite part of the design…As a male, it’s easy for me to put a feminist quote on a shirt and sell a buttload, but it’s different to actually understand the layers and understand that even in gender discrimination, not all women are treated equally,” he explained.

“Depending on ethnicity, minority women make roughly 15% less than white women. The design wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the inequality across the board.”

It’s actually a simple problem

👨🏼= 10
👨🏾 = 7
👩🏼= 8 💰
👩🏾= 6.5 💰

Another eye-catching element of Career Woman is in the effective use of emojis to simply explain the problem and appeal to a social media savvy generation.

I think younger people are actually more in tune with social issues because everything today is about being PC and they didn’t have as much time to grow up conditioned to think a certain way about masculinity or race, etc. They were basically born on social media… it’s so much more dynamic,” he explains.

Food for thought: Gender Inequality in Australia

Across the world, women consistently earn less than men and are concentrated in the lowest-paid and least secure forms of work. In Australia, the gender pay gap is below the global average of 23 per cent, but the reality of the difference still exists. Here’s a quick snapshot of key stats from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2018 report on gender equality:


In Australia, the wage gap is 15.3 per cent – that means for every one dollar a male makes, a woman makes 15 per cent less (based on the average full-time weekly wage).

According to the report, 47 per cent of the workforce in 2018 are women but across the private and public sector, women are over-represented in low-paid, part-time roles and remain under-represented in leadership positions. Astonishingly, Australian women will also have to work an extra 56 days a year to earn the same pay as men for doing the same work.

In light of the current wage disparity, the average superannuation balance for women at retirement (aged 60-64) is 42.0% lower than those for men. When we add this up, Australian women who reach retirement will have an average of $113,660 less superannuation than the average male. 

*Read more about sex discrimination in the workplace here and show LISNUP some love here.

Our ‘festering scab’ of injustice

The life of an asylum seeker seems like a far away reality – people living in limbo on a remote Island in Papua New Guinea. It’s so easy to separate them and us. But we need to address the stench – the reeking waft of injustice on our country’s prohibitive border.

There are currently 2000 asylum seekers detained on Nauru Island – pawns in the government’s wider policy to stop illegal boat arrivals. Earlier this year, the Papua New Guinea High Court found Australia’s detention facilities to be ‘unconstitutional’ but Australian Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton says the centre is unlikely to close. A string of activists, grassroot advocates and non-for-profit organisations are calling for greater accountability. I spoke with Acting CEO, Tim O’Connor from the Refugee Council of Australia and this is what he had to say.

Can you define the difference between an Asylum seeker and a refugee?
A person seeking asylum is displaced because of persecution, it might be because of conflict, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or their political views. At the moment, most people are displaced because of conflict.

Someone seeking asylum is awaiting their refugee status to be determined. It’s a legal category – people that are displaced are displaced and they need safety and protection. When Australia recognises someone as a refugee, they recognise their refugee status as when they left the country so there’s a real grey area practically. It’s a legal definition and governments like the Australian government can keep people… especially those who arrive by boat in very precarious situation. It’s a legal definition that puts people into a category that is not always appropriate.

Do you agree with the term ‘unlawful citizen’ as cited in the 1958 Migration Act?
There’s been a number of changes to the 1958 Migration Act and the world has also changed a great deal.

There are enormous concerns we have with the current legislation which relates to people seeking asylum. The government is on a constant effort to dehumanise people in many ways.

People that arrive by boat seeking asylum, which is perfectly legal, because Australia is a signatory to the UN convention on refugees – states that it is perfectly legal to seek asylum, there needs to be a fair determination process. The current process Australia has, there is a lot of question around the fairness of that… the ability to get judicial review is in question, temporary protection visa status of around 30,000 people in the country…many of whom will be recognised as refugees, is putting them in a precarious mental health situation…we’ve seen a spike in the number of suicides. The border force act has come in recently which says that says people who work in places and witness abuse and report it back to the public, they are liable to face 2 years in jail – very draconian measures… there’s no transparency… we’ve seen hundreds of reports of abuse… there’s been no investigations into deaths and abuse… there’s been no convictions. That’s of huge concern because as the Australian public, as taxpayers, it’s abuse that’s occurring in our name. There’s no recourse, no accountability. And all of this has come into because of our ad hoc legislation around legislation…

There’s a real dichotomy that exists in Australia… we have a very generous refugee program with the largest intake of refugees to resettle and a strong resettlement program… meeting people at the airport, access to language training, healthcare. That’s the very positive side but on the other side, if you come here seeking asylum, particularly by boat, basically now Australia has the license to torture you, to lock you up in camps and to keep you in perpetual limbo and we think there needs to be urgent attention to those matters.

The government penalises people who arrive by boat, what’s the myth surrounding boat people as queue jumpers?
At the moment there are 65 million displaced people in the world, 24 million of these are recognised refugees, last year resettled total of 200,000, less than 1% get resettled so if there was a queue, it would be at least 100 years old just for the refugees we have today. The reality is that people flee persecution – different people have different needs and some of those needs are of higher priority… there’s a whole raft of reasons why the queue idea doesn’t really work for many of these people. If there was a queue – of 100 years long, is not really a queue at all.

There are many reasons – the common one the government puts forward and is supported by the opposition, is that we want to stop the boats and stop deaths at sea… but the challenge is how do these people live with dignity. Certainly Australia has a role to resettle refugees but we could be doing a lot more to help source countries with refugees…

The UNHCR talks about durable solutions and there are three – first one is enabling people to go back to the country they fled from… but also when they flee across to another country, to be able to live with dignity is absolutely essential…

Australia has committed over 130 million to be spent over three years- millions of people who have fled… need access to that assistance but when you think of spending 130 million people over three years of a cohort of 5-10 million people versus billions spending here on locking up a few thousand people on Nauru and Manus – the sums just don’t add up.

We really should be looking at the root of the problem and I think Australia could be doing a lot better on that front. We need to be engaged regionally and internationally, and of course Australia has the sovereign nation to say who can come and who can’t but we also have an obligation to assist people fleeing persecution and seeking the safety we all aspire to.

It’s a perplexing situation that is of huge concern. We are in touch with people on Nauru on relatively regular basis. It’s difficult to explain the context of how Nauru has come about and the situation there now. The government says the camp is open and people can come and go as they please – people in the camp say that’s not the case. There are about 500 people who have been recognised as refugees living in teh community – Nauru is a small island of about 10,000 so that’s another increase in 10% of the population of refugees from many different ethnic backgrounds so that creates challenges in how communities interact with each other and whether there is capacity of a small country like Nauru to manage that is contentious – the opportunities for work is extremely limited

There are about 500 people who have been recognised as refugees living in teh community – Nauru is a small island of about 10,000 so that’s another increase in 10% of the population of refugees from many different ethnic backgrounds so that creates challenges in how communities interact with each other and whether there is capacity of a small country like Nauru to manage that is contentious – the opportunities for work is extremely limited there’s been numerous reports of children being bullied at school – access to education is important and health services is reported to us continually as being inadequate… mental services required for these vulnerable people.

We have this other festering scab of allegations of abuse – child abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse that the government itself in its own report found that the police in Nauru didn’t have the capacity to look into it… these cases go uninvestigated as far as we’re aware – no justice for these people, which is entirely unacceptable.

The Nauruan PM appealed for countries to take the 950 people in Nauru to resettle them. We’re getting very different information of course no one can go to Nauru – we tried to go there a number of times… it’s really the issue of transparency and accountability. The government is spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars but no insight of what is happening there – we saw the leak of the Nauru files – more than 2000 incident reports detailing horrendous cases of abuse, we have a current royal commission going on into institutional child sex abuse cases that’s been excluded from looking at what’s been going on in Nauru. This is a service, if you can call it that, being delivered by Australians…. It’s very much an Australian operation and therefore we do have some obvious responsibility to the situation… There’ll certainly have to be an apology and serious compensation for the damage we’re causing.

Australia is a signatory to the UN convention on refugees, are we doing a good job?
In our view, no. Fundamental things like saying it’s illegal to seek asylum contravenes the convention. Australia has changed the legislation to work around that and obviously there’s been people locked up in Nauru and Manus is not meeting our obligations. We’re failing people, we’re sending people back to places… where they’ve been detained and there have been reports of torture and that is direct breach of the convention but it’s very difficult to pin the Australian government down on this because international law enforcement is not particularly strong but it is an obligation Australia does have… the reality is that there are potential breaches in many areas.

What role do grassroot organisations, individual activists and organisations play in fighting the government’s policy?
Well, you could call it fighting the government’s policies but it’s also struggling for better outcomes for refugees and people seeking aslyum and that’s absolutely important. There are hundreds of organisations that are a members of us who are everyday supporting asylum seekers and refugees to integrate better into Australian society and give them access to the basic rights they deserve. They’re also supported by hundreds of Australians who are desperately upset at the government’s policy in relation to this matter. In our view it’s entirely unsustainable – it costs an enormous amount and is doing great damage to people and we need to urgently stop what we’re doing and think about what are the values we have as Australians and what responsibility do we have to the international community.

If you could address the top myths surrounding refugees, what would it be?
Addressing myths reinforces that negative frame so that’s one of the key things but i think it’s really humanising the refugee experience. We have so many terms that exist in our vernacular that totally depersonalise the humanity of what are people that are fleeing persecution, they’re running for their lives and when you understand that they have a beating heart, they have a sister or a brother or a child, as so many do, then you begin to understand the situation in a different realm than when you talk about ‘boat people’ or ‘illegal arrivals’ or even ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’. They’re very depersonalising terms but the reality is they’re people that want a better life for themselves and their family so I think that’s a key challenge.

The obvious thing is we need to improve our policies, we need to ensure that Australia protecting the rights of those who are feeling persecution in the region and internationally. It’s an enormous challenge. There are 65 million people displaced and 7 billion people in the world – if the political will existed, we could solve the crisis that exists now. It’s a crisis that’s of the making of the people on this planet and it’s only these people working together that will resolve it.

How do you keep yourself motivated?
We have the opportunity here to deal with thousands of people who come here as refugees – we see the contribution they want to make and have made here in Australia. Dealing with them everyday, and recognising the challenges they face is what keeps you inspired everyday. It’s very difficult in this environment to make political change or even talk to our government on some of these matters. They have an entirely different view – but we’re at a strong view that we’re right because we are in touch with these people, we see their rights being breached and the damage that does.

Working with state governments has been very productive in recent years… working with universities… there are many things we do that have been positive. We take a very principal position but we also take a pragmatic position – we’re not going to change our principles… we see that it is not a problem only of Australia’s making. It’s a global problem and it’s only through cooperation we can do it.

We’re keeping engaged with members here and Australians that support them and people who came here as refugees and that’s the sort of thing that inspires us. We know the great benefit that can come from it.

What is one message you’d give to people in the community who think there’s not much they can do?
There’s lots you can do. There’s many many things…. We have many volunteers at the Refugee Council. There are other organisations like Asylum Seeker Centre, House of Welcome who are crying out for volunteers and crying out for help.

We need all Australians to be talking to our government about this… contact your local member and tell them you’re not happy about it… We’ve got to engage the Australian public better but it’s only through cooperation… that we’ll actually change things for the better.

The voice of the nation’s conscience

Meet Martine Valentine,  Strategist and brand new nan from Grandmothers Against the Detention of Refugee Children

People have always stood on one side of history. For some, their actions have been a catalyst for freedom – a positive force for a necessary change. But for the majority, our actions, or lack thereof, has perpetuated a difficult situation or legitimised a wrong. In the public debate surrounding asylum seekers on Nauru Island and refugees in Australia, there is little room for neutrality – not when the livelihood of children are at stake.

In Melbourne and Sydney, a group of grandmothers are standing up against the government’s treatment of refugees, and according to the advocates, the way we treat children says a lot about the condition of our nation’s soul. I shared a morning coffee with Martine Valentine, from Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children (GADRC) and this is what she had to say:

How did this organisation first start? It first started in Melbourne, when a lot of women who were early educators and psychologists and they were very concerned about the long-term effects of detention on children and they knew how destructive it was to their lifelong development. They started in Melbourne, a wonderful team of women and they’ve continued to lead the whole thing and now there’s 2000 of us across Australia.

"You know your government has failed when your grandmother starts to riot."
“You know your government has failed when your grandmother starts to riot.”

The main thing we do is we try to be a visual presence on the street just to help ordinary people understand that having children locked up in detention, there’s just no need for it – it’s very destructive for children. It’s bad for us, it’s bad for our nation’s soul. Let’s face it. Ask somebody from Nazi Germany how they felt about the concentration camps. I don’t want to have to be one of those grandmothers that

I don’t want to have to be one of those grandmothers that has to explain to my grandchildren why I didn’t do something, why I didn’t stand up for the freedom of innocent people trying to flee war zones or even poverty. These people have shown to be genuine refugees and are escaping some kind of violence or torture and now we’re torturing them. We’re just dumbfounded that people can’t see how bad this is for us. Do we want to be a nation that’s not proud of ourselves?

These people have shown to be genuine refugees and are escaping some kind of violence or torture and now we’re torturing them. We’re just dumbfounded that people can’t see how bad this is for us – do we want to be a nation that’s not proud of ourselves?

Visually, the organisation caught my eye. Can you tell me about the colour purple? Purple has been a symbol for a few different things – the feminist movement for example, were the suffragette colours. As a Catholic, purple is a symbol of lent and advent so it’s quite significant to be with the suffering and joys of other people and that’s why I wear purple. I wear it proudly and I’m very proud to be a grandmother too… I spend a lot of time with my grandchildren and I guess it’s for them that I took this on.

The colour purple is a key symbol for GADRC
Martine Valentine, GADRC

What was your understanding of refugees and asylum seekers before you started?
Growing up in a country town post WW2, I was surrounded by beautiful refugees from Europe, and it was amazing how my life was enriched by them so I’ve always felt very strongly to welcome refugees and asylum seekers.

There are no longer children held in onshore detention facilities, do you consider that a ‘win’?
The reduction, we do. We claim some victory amongst many other people fighting for justice for these people. In particular we focus on the children and we’re very please with the reduction but there are still children living on Nauru, some don’t go to school because of bullying issues… Because they’re locked up, they’re seen as lesser people. Nauru is struggling itself so they don’t seem to have room in their hearts, well a lot of them, to help these people and be supportive of them.

The Nauru files has very clearly laid out sexual abuse, very bad living conditions and skin conditions because of phosphate, it was an old phosphate mine so it’s very dusty and hot… If two people have self immolated, it can’t be too good.

What is the community’s response to these allegations? One of the things we focus on is trying to end the bipartisan support of offshore immigration detention and many of us are no longer able to vote Labour because of their support of the government’s policy of offshore detention. I think it’s ludicrous to think that stopping the boats allows for torture of innocent people. I don’t think the boats are stopped for one, it’s just covered in secrecy but surely, all of these great minds in Canberra can outsmart a few third world fishermen they call people smugglers, otherwise why are we paying them the big bucks?

We’re just pleading the parliamentarians to consider the needs of the children and let them be free and bring them to Australia. They’re going to need trauma treatment.

What are some changes you hope for? We liaise with groups that are the experts on what’s happening. We get advice from them and we consider ourselves a moderate, non-threatening group. We don’t involve ourselves in civil disobedience. We realise that people trust grandmothers to do the right thing and that’s our reputation that we hold dear because with grandmothers standing up they think, maybe we should do something.

How do you keep yourself going and stop desensitising myself? Whenever I go and stand outside the skirts of QVB, I’m with other grandmothers from all walks of life. They’re all so different, some of them have PhDs in refugee issues and there are lots I can learn from them. Just being together with a group of women bonded by the similar stance for justice for children, refugees and asylum seekers is very empowering. It’s very empowering…

Grandmothers in QVB, Sydney
Grandmothers campaigning in QVB, Sydney

What reputation do you think Australia has in the eyes of the world for its policy of offshore detention? I think we’re living on borrowed time. Increasingly people are starting to sit up and notice how destructive and detrimental our policies are. I don’t think we’re winning many friends – even these countries that have serious numbers coming in don’t seem to be impressed.

We’ve basically got an empty continent, triple-A credit ratings and we’re doing pretty well yet we can’t find it in our hearts to offer even a basic number of refugees and asylum seekers and increasingly we’re going to lose respect in the eyes of other countries in the world.

Do you find there’s been a lot of support in the community? We get great support, very rarely do we get anything negative. Although Andrew Wilkie said when we were on the lawns of parliament, “there’s nothing scarier than a paddock full of grandmothers” so maybe people are a bit scared of us and that’s why they’re nice, but I don’t think so.

If you could give one message to the community, what would it be? I think the first thing that comes to mind is educate yourself. Do you realise we’ve spent $9.6 billion dollars on keeping under 2000 people locked up. It’s your taxpayer money people! We could have put them all up on at the Hilton and that would have been much more civilised and still save money!

When will you be out of business? We can’t wait till we’re out of business… when at the very least when all children are safe and out of detention facilities. When they’re being supported and compensated for the torture they’ve been through.

We certainly won’t give up. There are many other groups such as lawyers that volunteer their time and I take my hat off to them.