Opinion

Good to Wear. Made for Good. The Social Outfit.

Lisa Heinze takes a look at The Social Outfit, a clothing store and social enterprise that focuses on ethically and sustainably produced fashion.

Walking down King Street, just past Newtown train station, I spot a shop I haven’t seen before. It’s interior has an edgy, urban vibe thanks to the minimal use of plywood, and after glimpsing colourful geometric prints and interesting designs I’m drawn inside like a moth to a flame. Inside the store I see organic tees by local designers Fare Well Co, unique jewellery and even some cushions amongst the beautiful silk shifts and tops. I have found The Social Outfit.

University of Sydney alum Jackie Ruddock has been making waves ever since her highly successful What Ken Be Done? blog project found her wearing vintage Ken Done clothing every day for a year and raising $25,000 for The Social Studio in Melbourne. Since then she has worked tirelessly with her team of employees and volunteers to replicate the successful social enterprise as The Social Studio here in Sydney. We sat down for a chat recently so I could learn more about this amazing shop.

So, what is The Social Outfit?

As Ruddock explains, “We see ourselves as a niche social enterprise about education, employment and empowerment. But the vehicle through which we do it is a textile, fashion and creative approach.”

There are a few projects going on behind the attractive retail store (which I learned was fit-out with LED lights and sustainable plywood, and the packaging is all recycled, too). There are employment opportunities not only in the shop, but also in production of clothes that are sold in the shop.

The back room is filled with industry-standard sewing machines and many garments are sewn on-site. Importantly, all employees are paid by the hour instead of by garment. But more than that, they are offered permanent long-term employment contracts, a rarity in traditional fashion manufacturing.

The Social Outfit run a sewing school, both as a drop-in sewing program for the community and also formal training. They now offer Vocational Education Training in Certificate III Clothing Production in partnership with the Sydney Institute TAFE NSW.

The clothing is created with sustainable fabrics, too. There is a volunteer dedicated to sourcing overstock fabrics, and The Social Outfit receive donations from designers –rescuing fabric from landfill! About half the fashion is made solely from these remnant pieces – the employees and volunteers work collaboratively on designs based on what fabric is available – and the rest is made of silks digitally printed with low-impact water-based dyes and backed by remnant fabric.

Many new migrants to Australia come with rich traditions in sewing and tailoring, and many are uniquely skilled in textiles and the arts. The Social Outfit helps these new migrants use their cultural strengths in order to put their best foot forward. The result is a beautiful range of unique, quality, eco-friendly garments, and many one-off pieces.

As we wind up our interview, Ruddock modestly sums up The Social Outfit:

“We have a talented new migrant community that are ready to work hard, ready to meet people, learn new skills, and want to settle in Australia. Be part of the community, work hard, learn, those sorts of things. And we’re just a tiny example of what we think is possible if we work together.”

The Social Outfit seems to be living up to its mission – Good to Wear. Made for Good. – and they’ve definitely found a permanent place on my Sustainable Shopping list.

Lisa Heinze is a PhD candidate at The University of Sydney and author of Sustainability with Style. She has blogged for SEI before about her experience as the Director of Clean Cut Fashion.

Image: supplied by Lisa Heinze