No Trade Off: The Bunnings Magazine Cover Story

No Trade Off: The Bunnings Magazine Cover Story

Reflecting on the Melbourne Bunnings Trade Expo Reading No Trade Off: The Bunnings Magazine Cover Story 10 minutes Next Meet Tamarah Vos

Originally published in the Bunnings Trade magazine.

No Trade Off

How tradies Dan Allen and Ed Ross went from making a crust on a building site to shining a positive spotlight on mental health.

By Erin McWhirter.

$3 million

The value of counselling TIACS — the service Dan and Ed co-founded — has provided to 18,500 Australian tradies, truckies, farmer and blue collar workers - for free.


Polar opposites. That's best mates Dan Allen and Ed Ross. Ten years ago, the pair were thrown together on a building site when Dan made the move from Western Sydney to Brisbane. Ed hails from Longreach in outback Queensland with a level of 'country', Dan teases, that is "far above other country people; he's loud, and like nothing I'd ever experienced."

Ask Ed about his first impressions of Dan and he gets animated: "A tall, lanky dude who after the first day of working together said, 'I can't wait to get home and crack a beer.'" The fast friends were stuck with each other — Dan a carpenter and Ed starting out his apprenticeship in the trade.

Sure, we say polar opposites, but when you meet the boys there is one thing that binds them together: a bloody good dose of humour and some good old-fashion ribbing. 

"When you're working together and you form a bond with one another, you also find other things you have in common. For us, that was our sense of humour," Dan says. "It doesn't really matter where you're from, you can still find something funny. That is the thing we built our friendship on, and it's pretty much been the same ever since."

Their banter is effortless, like two comedians playing off each other for the biggest laugh. The tradie version of Hamish and Andy, minus the red carpets. But while having a good time and sharing a cracking yarn over a brew or a laugh is in their DNA, sometimes life can throw you off-course.

"We do have our moments," Dan says. "I am an agitator by nature, I like to poke and prod, so for a long time we knew how to piss each other off. I would poke the bear [Ed] for a rise. I don't do that now..."

A gut-wrenching loss

When Dan lost one of his closest mates — a diehard Liverpool FC football fan and soon-to-be apprentice tradie — to suicide in December in 2015, it rocked him to his core. Confused and counting on his then-apprentice Ed for support, the pair started leaning into the tradie mental health space. Why was it so hard to start conversations, especially for men on worksites, about how they were feeling?

Together they masterminded TradeMutt — funky, eye-catching workwear with "This Is A Conversation Starter" embroidered across the back of their shirts. Their aim was to demystify mental health, make it a little bit more light-hearted and start conversations. From the moment they walked into a pub for a schooner wearing the first-ever shirt creations, the chatter began. People asked about the shirts and the slogan — the guys were on to something. At its heart, TradeMut is about gelling the idea of social impact and profit for purpose, inspired by a lost mate.

"His legacy lives on through what we do and that comes from an extremely traumatic place," Dan says of his late friend. "It's quite a complex thing for me to process within myself. I want to do the best for his memory and for his family. They've been through the most traumatic thing they will ever go through. I've stood toe-to-toe with his mother, and many other mothers, who have lost their child to suicide, and that look of emptiness in someone's eyes, to experience that... those families are never going to recover from that."

The making of TIACS

While it hasn't come easy — "We've had our blues," admits Dan — the mates and their teams have worked their butts off to deliver more than $3 million so far in free mental health support to tradies, truckies, rural, and blue collar workers. Plus, 50 cent of profits from every TradeMutt shirt sold goes to mental health support service TIACS (This Is A Conversation Starter).

The company was co-founded in 2020 by Dan and Ed, expanding their touchpoints of the TradeMutt brand to offer a text and call service that allows free access to mental health counsellors. More than 18,500 tradespeople and their families have utilised the service since its launch.

It's a huge enterprise. From a business of two to now being responsible for 35 staff across both organisations, engaging various stakeholders and, of course, providing life-saving counselling services through TIACS through the community — you can see why poking the bear may not be the wisest move anymore.

"In the early days, it was so new and fun," Dan says. "We've got to take this seriously now, and we do. We don't take risks like we did before. The future of this whole thing is far bigger than us. It was once about the two of us, but now it's about the entire company, the entire industry."

Live and learn

Launching the company in their 20s (Ed turns 31 in June, with Dan turning 35 in July) has seen them mature quickly when it comes to business acumen. 

"Setting up a counselling and telehealth support service is a training school," Dan says. "One of the funny things was updating our insurance for TIACS when it was in its infancy. The insurance company asked, 'What are your qualifications?' and we said, 'Certificate III carpentry and joinery' and they were like, 'Are you f***ing serious?'" he laughs. "But, in trades, you learn great problem-solving skills and this whole journey has been a continuous problem-solving exercise. As long as you're happy to solve problems and figure it out, you just keep plodding away."

Protecting their mental health

While Dan and Ed have made it their mission to provide mental health support to those in need, they are not immune to the challenges of a low headspace.

Being asked to present a TEDxTalk from Brisbane (a world-renowned online service that posts international talks with individuals sharing "ideas worth spreading") last year was a huge deal for Dan. Behind the scenes, he was going through a break-up and other personal challenges. The TEDxTalk preparation took him weeks for a 15-minute stand-up in front of an audience (and for the record, he was only allowed to swear once and the profanity was met with raucous laughter). He was spent by the end of it. Here he was spreading the word about mental health, when he was crumbling.

"Just because we advocate for mental health, it doesn't make us immune to the same challenges that everyone else has," Dan shares. "We're all dealing with things on a daily basis. There's relationships, financial stress, illnesses in the family, work stress — all of it together can really affect your mental health. I've been in really low spots at time throughout this journey. I know what stuff fills my cup and gives me clarity, moments of happiness or relaxation. I love social sport, it gets those demons out."

Dan and Ed both see professionals to unpack their burdens, and have trained themselves to better balance work and life — mostly.

"It's always a battle," Ed says. "I see my psych semi-regularly, I exercise a lot, I set a lot of goals outside of work so it's not all about work. That was such a big thing for a long time — going home, then back to work, and it's not sustainable."

Having a social impact

There's no doubt TIACS' call or text service (0488 836 988), operating Monday to Friday from 8am to 10pm, is creating change. Take third-year carpentry apprentice Maxi, who reached out to TIACS after losing his dad in August 2021.

"It was sudden and tragic, and there was a lot of drama that happened afterwards," Maxi says. "I was really cut up, but I held it together for the first three or four months pretty well. After that, I just turned into a trainwreck. Mum reminded me of TIACS and... [reaching out has] been the best thing I ever did."

Maxi's story unfortunately isn't unique. For Dan and Ed, TIACS is all about helping make an invisible issue impossible to ignore. "Everyone is putting the game face on as best they can, and you don't know what someone is dealing with," Dan says. Ed adds: "There are so many people struggling out there that don't know where to go. We are just trying to help."


Everything you need to know about TIACS, TradeMutt and supporting mental health

Q: What does the initials YNWA mean on the corner pocket of TradeMutt shirts?

A: It's the abbreviated Liverpool FC motto: "You'll Never Walk Alone."

"I am proud of the fact we have YNWA on all of our shirts," Dan says. "It's inspired by stuff that [my friend] loved and it's a message to everyone else to fight the good fight, keep on going. It's for the entire community to prevent that loss."

Q: What's the QR code inside the pocket of the shirts and where can I buy a TradeMutt shirt?

A: It's a QR code that leads directly to information on free counselling service TIACS. The full range of shirts can be found at

Q: How much from the sale of TradeMutt shirts is donated to charity TIACS?

A: Fifty per cent of the profits from every TradeMutt shirt sold goes to TIACS.

Q: What are the common signs someone is struggling with their mental health?

A: According to Jason Banks, co-CEO of TIACS, becoming withdraw, mood changes and changes in usual behaviour are all key signs. Not attending events or meetings, and not being as talkative or upbeat as normal could also be a signal someone is struggling. If someone you know well enough starts snapping or gets frustrated quickly, that can be a danger sign.

Q: How can I help someone that might be doing it tough?

A: Keep up-to-date with your workmate's big life changes and be interested, TIACS counsellors advise. Having a conversation where you listen and let them talk can help. And recommending a professional service, such as TIACS.

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