The Social Outfit set out to provide jobs for refugees and migrants by saving textiles from landfill. Now they’re part of an ethical fashion revolution.

The Social Outfit. Image: Diego Lorenzo Jose
  • Ethical fashion brand The Social Outfit aims to provide employment opportunities for new migrants and people from refugee backgrounds in Australia.
  • Based in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, it operates a retail store and free sewing classes.
  • This year, The Social Outfit designed face masks, donating one for every one sold.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The Social Outfit is an ethical fashion brand on a mission to empower new migrants and people from refugee backgrounds in Australia – particularly women.

Based in Newtown in Sydney’s inner west, the social enterprise has grown to operate a variety of initiatives. It began by hiring refugees – many of whom had a background in sewing – to help make clothes. “What they would lack in Australia is potentially English skills or the confidence to go out and get a job,” Camilla Schippa, CEO of The Social Outfit, told Business Insider Australia. “So we’d bring them in and they’d make the clothes.”

From there, the organisation began offering free sewing classes for refugees who wanted to learn or improve their skills. But, with the high cost of fabrics and an acknowledgment of the large amounts of pollution caused by the fashion industry, The Social Outfit opted to source unused fabrics from Australian fashion manufacturers.

It collects leftover fabrics from companies such as Bianca Spender, Carla Zampatti and Cue and creates patchwork out of them in a bid to protect the environment. “We have saved over seven tonnes of fabric from landfill to date by doing that,” Schippa said.

The Social Outfit’s shop in Newtown serves as a place of employment for new migrants and refugees. So far it has hired 38 trainees, with 33 of them having it as their first job. They get to work in the shop for three months and learn everything they need to know about retail.

As an extension of this, The Social Outfit partnered with companies like Lush, WeWork and Ikea so that once these young women complete their training, they can get an interview once there’s a job opening. The Social Outfit keeps the trainees on for two years before helping them transition into other work.

“We build all of their skills – the most important one is their confidence and their English skills – and then because of our contacts in the industry, we help transition them to other employment so we can make room for more,” Schippa said.

The four latest trainees graduated in November and have all moved on to new employment outside of The Social Outfit – something Schippa is very proud of. She added that more than 400 refugees have trained across its free sewing classes and other projects.

The Heirloom print on a scrunchie, shirt and jacket

Doing art projects

Another big part of The Social Outfit is doing creative art projects, where they make signature prints for apparel and accessories that are available in store and online.

“We always have two of our prints normally printed on silk,” Schippa said. “One is what we call our community print, which is a collage of art from young new migrants. When they come to the shop and see these beautiful clothes and they recognise their drawing – that gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. And for us, it gives us a beautiful print.”

This month, as part of the organisation’s 2020 Collaborative Fashion Print Project, it launched the new community print ‘Heirloom’. It was designed with art created by five young emerging artists from refugee and new migrant backgrounds, inspired by the theme of heirlooms and family traditions. Their art pieces were stitched together by artist Clementine Barnes to create the final print.

The young artists were paid for their work, with the print used on jackets, skirts, dresses, tops and accessories. And this year was the first time The Social Outfit’s community of sewers and trainees were able to model for the project. They were styled by Peter Simon Phillips (whose work has been featured in magazines and on runways) and photographed by Diego Lorenzo Jose.

The Gawaa print. Image The Social Outfit

The second print the organisation does each year is an artist print. This year it came from Mongolian-born Sydney-based artist Gawaa.

“We identify an artist with a refugee background or new migrant background with art we love and then we reproduce that art on to silk as a way to support the artists [and] bring attention to their art,” Shcippa said. “They get a small percentage of every piece sold and we get a beautiful print.”

Since launching in 2014, The Social Outfit has continued to support the community it has been a part of. When the pandemic hit, it created face masks, sating that for every face mask sold one was donated to a person unable to buy one. They have donated over 3,000 face masks to date.

Ultimately, Schippa wants to expand The Social Outfit so it can offer more training and employment opportunities to new migrants and refugees.

“My dream is to have a number of social outfits pop up in other cities in Australia first and then in other countries,” she said.


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