Sydney-based ethical clothing store aims to hire more refugees

'Most of our sewers are from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Burma'

Sydney-based ethical clothing store aims to hire more refugees

A Sydney-based, ethical women's clothing store has set a goal of increasing the number of refugees and migrants it employs by 2024, to provide them with a route into fashion.

The Social Outfit in Newtown is a social enterprise retail store, with onsite manufacturing and a sewing school, which set up in business in 2014 and aims to develop its employees’ retail skills. It employs refugee or new migrant women who use their sewing skills to design and make unique garments. To date, 67 women have been employed – collectively earning more than $1 million in wages - and the CEO Camilla Schippa aims to lift that number to 100 within two years.

“Most of our sewers are from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Burma,” Camilla Schippa explained. “Some come from African countries, and China. We bring the women together, to get to know each other, share their creativity, support each other and to have a better chance of becoming part of the Australian community. Our goal is for them to gain the confidence and skills to transition into other paid jobs in fashion or retail.”

The enterprise offers community programs, such as sewing classes and textile print development workshops, which have attracted more than 600 participants to date, along with a paid training program that has nurtured the retail industry skills of almost 30 young women. The business believes creativity and fashion leads to learning and empowerment for people from new migrant and refugee communities. It is also committed to minimising its environmental impact, as an antidote to the throwaway, fast fashion that’s .

Australians are apparently the second-highest consumers of textiles in the world, with the average person consuming around 27kg of new clothing per year and disposing 23kg to landfill each year, according to the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment.

The Social Outfit receives excess fabrics and trims from Australian fashion houses such as Bianca Spender, Cue, Seafolly, Romance Was Born and Camilla + Marc. By doing so, they stop it going to landfill and then give it new lease of life.

“On average, 80% of the textiles used in our collections are waste fabrics, and we’ve saved more than 9.5 tonnes of fabric from landfill so far,” Camilla Schippa offers. “We’re essentially saying, buy ethical – which can be more expensive – but reduce the amount you buy, and it’s ok to wear the same garment over and over and be creative about styling it.

“You need to love your garments and use them a lot and you also need to know where they come from. Yes, ask ‘What material it is?’ and ‘Where is it from?’, but also ‘Who made it and how were they paid?’”

Camilla Schippa took over as chief executive of The Social Outfit in 2019 from founder Jackie Ruddock, following a decade as a Sydney-based Director of the Institute of Economics and Peace and 15 years with the United Nations in New York. The business has received financial and non-financial support from

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