From the outside, The Social Outfit looks like any other retail store on south King Street in Newtown. Patterned clothes brighten the plywood walls, and bags and other accessories hang inside display shelves. But behind the scenes, sewing technicians are working alongside staff and students from refugee and new-migrant communities to make the clothes hanging in-store.
CEO Jackie Ruddock worked with the extremely successful The Social Studio in Melbourne in 2010, a social enterprise that provides a supportive environment for refugees and new migrants to build their skill set in fashion and tailoring, and gain experience through paid employment. She decided to replicate the model for communities in Sydney. The bricks-and-mortar store opened in June 2014, and they raised money the year after from ING Dreamstarter, a crowd-funding platform for social entrepreneurs, to produce their own prints.
“Many refugees from Asia and the Middle East have incredible tailoring and artisan skills, but it’s difficult for them to get recognition when moving to Sydney because they have to go through the qualification process again,” says The Social Outfit consultant and designer, Eloise Rapp.
Run in-house, the workshop also gives workers and students the experience to complete a TAFE course in clothing production. And exposure to an English- language program.
“But one of the most rewarding aspects is being able to assist them with that transition, and their sense of worth,” says Rapp, who originally came on board as a volunteer in early 2015.
As well as upholding ethical practices, the brand is also sustainability conscious. “We use donated fabrics – beautiful interesting ones that would otherwise end up in landfill – and repurpose them, giving them new life,” says Rapp. It has established ongoing relationships with brands such as Carla Zampatti, Seafolly and Ginger + Smart, so there is no shortage of beautiful material to work with.
“We also print our own signature silk designs in collaboration with artists and designers, and members of the new migrant community. We take care to use natural fabrics and make clothes on a demand basis to eliminate waste,” says Rapp.
For more information, visit: thesocialoutfit.org