The Social Outfit

Where else can you get recycled vintage Ken Done fabrics and help out Australia's new migrants?
Annie Bettis
Published on November 27, 2014
Updated on November 23, 2021


Asylum seekers. Refugees. Migrant communities. In today's Australia, these descriptions aren't likely to generate warm feelings and positive stories. More likely these are buzzwords for negativity, for political disagreements and protests.

What people won't read in the immigration reports is that many refugees and migrants come from cultures where textiles, sewing and clothes-making are everyday practice, meaning they arrive with skills which fit quite perfectly into Australia's thriving creative communities. And in that lies the intersection between fashion and social good. That's right, philanthropist and CEO of The Social Outfit Jackie Ruddock is giving you a very good reason to bust out those credit cards: her social enterprise employs and trains migrants in producing fashion with a contemporary Australian aesthetic.

The local fashion industry is not without its challenges, but it's not going to disappear. So when it comes to providing stable employment opportunities, education and empowerment to those who already have the skills to create, it feels a bit like a no-brainer. Many migrants come to Australia from interrupted educations, and employment in a physical shop allows them to become part of Australia's culture and economy. Through business interactions, speaking in English and seeing each piece from conception to creation through to sale, employees are getting a truly beneficial education in a real-life classroom.

The Social Outfit itself came into existence after Ruddock launched a 365-day social experiment where she committed to wearing a piece of Ken Done's fashion line and donating $3 per day to her chosen charity, The Social Studio in Melbourne. "It wasn't my intention to set up in Sydney," Ruddock explains, "but we'd built so much interest that we had to ask ourselves what it would look like." So with her steadfast following and believe in the cause, Sydney's own fashionable social enterprise was born. An independent venture from Melbourne's flagship, built through close collaboration.

Nothing is by accident, down to the Newtown shop fit-out, designed entirely by Nina Maya, a Sydney designer who also contributed to Colour Chameleon, The Social Outfit's first line, made up of donated digital prints from the likes of Dragstar and Ken Done. Two square cut-outs hide among the wooden shelving, allowing customers a direct view into the sewing room behind the shop, where every single piece is hand-created. Just to add further to the social cause, much of the fabric used is excess from fashion designers, otherwise awaiting its fate in the landfill.

They say that location is everything and the inner west was the ideal connection to the migrant communities of Western Sydney and the inner city shopping destinations. Equally important was the shop's accessibility via public transport, making King Street an easy choice.

Having only just opened up the volunteer-run permanent shop (they had a pop-up in The Rocks last year), Ruddock and the board of seven have already seen massive support from the local creative and fashion communities and the possibilities for development seem endless. Next up, they have partnered with Sydney TAFE to provide Certificate III in clothing production through the in-house sewing school. This is just one more way The Social Outfit is providing detailed education and hands-on experience and celebrating the contribution of these communities to a caring and creative Sydney.

The Social Outfit is at 353 King Street, Newtown.


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