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