A new out­fit fash­ion­ing our so­cial fab­ric


From a small shopfront in Syd­ney’s Newtown comes a feel-good fash­ion story for our times.

The So­cial Out­fit is tak­ing a two-pronged ap­proach to so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity in fash­ion while fos­ter­ing a sense of com­mu­nity for marginalised women.

Founder Jackie Rud­dock has repli­cated the model of Mel­bourne’s The So­cial Stu­dio, with which she was pre­vi­ously in­volved, and brings to­gether new mi­grant and refugee women to learn to sew, while also tack­ling waste in the fash­ion in­dus­try.

A num­ber of fash­ion de­sign­ers and la­bels reg­u­larly do­nate left­over fabrics, of­f­cuts, sam­ple swatches and trims, which are then turned into pieces for sale both in store and on their web­site.

“About 50 per cent of our fabrics are ex­cess from the fash­ion in­dus­try saved from land­fill,” Rud­dock tells The Aus­tralian.

“Many de­sign­ers want to en­sure their fabrics are used, and they’re of­ten of great qual­ity. This al­lows us to give our cus­tomers lim­ited-edi­tion and rare things.”

Some brands also of­fer their own archival prints which are then reprinted us­ing wa­ter-based tech­niques that have less en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, for lim­ited-edi­tion cap­sules. The lat­est of these is by Ro­mance Was Born, while others con­tribut­ing to the ini­tia­tive in­clude Carla Zam­patti, Seafolly, Rit­ten­house, Ginger & Smart, Alice McCall, Linda Jack­son and Cue.

Ro­mance Was Born’s Anna Plun­kett says the growth of their busi­ness brings with it anx­i­ety about in­dus­try wastage, and she praises Rud­dock for the ini­tia­tive and for bring­ing them into the fold. She sug­gested do­ing patch­work pieces to be able to use smaller of­f­cuts, which are now be­ing made into items such as Aline skirts. “Fash­ion is the sec­ond­biggest in­dus­try for pol­lu­tion and that’s not some­thing you learn about at col­lege,” says Plun­kett.

Those in­volved in the train­ing pro­gram, which goes to­wards a TAFE cer­tifi­cate, find their way to the pro­gram via hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies in­clud­ing Red Cross and Set­tle­ment Ser­vices In­ter­na­tional.

“We work with a ma­jor­ity of women, be­cause re­search shows that about 70 per cent of men from hu­man­i­tar­ian back­grounds are in the work­force, but only 20 per cent of women are,” says Rud­dock.

In three years, about 150 women have gone through the sewing train­ing pro­gram; 14 have gone on to be em­ployed in-house, while an­other 13 have found on­go­ing em­ploy­ment else­where. Others go on to form mi­cro-en­ter­prises and be self-em­ployed.

One of the full-time employees, Naw Es­ther, moved to Aus­tralia from Myan­mar in 1997 via a spon­sored hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­gram. “I first came here and got this job be­cause of my hobby,” said Es­ther. “I re­ally like it, there are won­der­ful peo­ple, a friendly en­vi­ron­ment and every­one helps one an­other.”


Su­danese model Menu Con­teh wears one of the project’s de­signs with Ro­mance Was Born’s Anna Plun­kett, left, and founder Jackie Rud­dock

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