Ethical fashion tends to focus on the ‘don’ts’. Don’t exploit your workforce, don’t harm animals, don’t destroy the environment. Australian sister organisations The Social Studio (Melbourne) and The Social Outfit (Sydney) take their ethics a step further, combining fashion with active social enterprise by providing employment and training to refugees and new migrants.
On its first birthday, The Social Outfit is seeking support from the community to crowdfund its expansion.
Opening its doors in June 2014, The Social Outfit is, first and foremost, an awesome place to buy clothes. Their Instagram feed is an explosion of colour and, with clothes made in-house, they have an ordering system that allows you to have their clothing designs made for you in silk prints of your choosing.
Ticking those sustainability boxes, much of the clothing is made from excess fabric donated by the Australian fashion industry. Carla Zampatti is an ambassador for the organisation and other supporters include Seafolly, Linda Jackson, Nina Maya, Dragstar and Ken Done. Fun fact: Sydney CEO Jackie Ruddock fundraised for The Social Studio in Melbourne by wearing a different Ken Done outfit every day for a year.
The Social Outfit is currently collaborating with Sydney designer Eloise Rapp and women from the Karen (Burmese) community in Sydney to create a ‘community print’, adapting the woven fabrics of the community into digital artwork.
Naw Esther Han, a part time sewing technician, said she is enjoying the workshops. “Talking together, I also learn more about the whole Karen culture, because I grew up closer to the city,” she said. “The Karen mountain culture is more traditional. By sharing stories we understand more about our own art and design. I’m excited then that we can print and show our Karen weaving to Australia, too.”
So far, six students have begun their Certificate III in Clothing Production in partnership with Sydney Institute TAFE NSW and The Social Outfit has employed their first full time sewing technician, an Afghani tailor. It’s is his first paid job in Australia and he is able to support his whole family with the income. According to Jackie, “security and stability are important to us, [so] all our staff are employed on secure contracts tied to fashion industry awards.”
Money raised from The Social Outfit’s ING Dreamstarter crowdfunding campaign will go towards a digital design training program that will allow the development of more ‘community prints’ for the store.
“Community prints are such a unique way for people to tell their stories via art, and share their creative traditions more broadly,” Jackie explains. “It’s a positive opportunity to create belonging through fashion and design. Plus, we’re working on computers, so people are slowly building up technology skills too.”
Running social enterprise can be expensive, which is why they’ve turned to crowdfunding. Funds raised will allow them team to work with specialist educators and provide skills, development and resources to a range of refugee and new migrant communities. It also means they can undertake consultation with community leaders to ensure respect and acknowledgement of cultural traditions.
“We believe fashion and creativity can lead to learning and empowerment for new migrant and refugee communities. We have seen the impact of employment and skill development and are hungry to do more.”
With Australia’s asylum seeker policies growing darker and more horrifying each day, it’s good to read about an Australian organisation welcoming refugees and new migrants – and making the kind of threads we want to throw our money at.
Maeve Marsden is a freelance writer, director, producer and performer. She performs in feminist cabaret act, Lady Sings it Better, consults for Music Australia and collaborates on various creative projects. Via dailylife.com.au