Aminata, who is a board member here at The Social Outfit, was one of the first refugees from Sierra Leone to settle in Australia, following her kidnapping and imprisonment by rebel soldiers during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war. As I speak to her, there is no bitterness in her voice. I hear warmth, acceptance, good humour, and an unwavering sense of purpose.
“I don’t like to say I’m busy,” she laughs. “I’m proactive.”
As I speak with her, I get a sense of the energy she brings to her life, and her role as CEO of her non-profit, The Aminata Maternal Foundation, and her role as Special Representative for Australia United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“My purpose is to restore dignity to humanity. Everyone is born with dignity, but for some, that gets taken away. But if it can be taken away, that also means it can be restored.”
I ask her... “What would you want our community to know, Aminata?”
Her answer is instant. “The public narrative around refugees is not the full picture. They’ve lived entire lives before arriving in Australia. They’re much more than what happened to them. They’re resilient. They have a richness of culture and skills, and they long for equal opportunity to contribute to Australia and flourish.”
As we speak, it’s clear that restoration of dignity rests on the foundation of recognising humanity.
“Before we’re anything else, we are human beings – humans seeking refuge. Don’t see me as a refugee. See me as Aminata. Connect with me, on a human level. And if, in that conversation, you discover you can do something for me, great. But also, be open to the fact that I might be able to do something for you!”
We spend a moment discussing ubuntu – the beautiful spirit of collective interdependence that is the bedrock of Africa. As I reflect on our conversation, I am convinced that, ultimately, our humanity is what both connects us, and motivates us in being the change we seek – together.
Above: The Social Outfit Ambassador Bianca Spender (L) and Aminata Conteh-Biger (R) with model for Mindfully Made 2018
Refugee Week, 18-24 June, celebrates the contributions refugees and people seeking asylum make in our communities. A big thank you to Aminata Conteh-Biger for taking the time to share her insights and volunteer Donna Radley for conducting the interview and writing this article. If you’d like to read Aminata’s book, Rising Heart, you can find the details here.
Donate to The Social Outfit's Refugee Week Fundraiser WEAR THE CHANGE here
You know about sustainable fashion, but what does it really mean to have sustainable style?
There’s no exact science to putting a stellar outfit together but if you’ve ever found yourself in a styling rut, we may have some tips and tricks to help you bring back the inspiration to the daily act of getting dressed.
Last week we hosted a webinar where our very own Kate and Eliza shared their
5 key principles for sustainable style:
- Buy investment pieces from sustainable brands.
- Versatility - when you acquire something new, think beyond “trends”.
- Garment care - wash less, wash smart.
- Make do and mend.
- Swap, borrow, share, rent.
Longevity is key when it comes to sustainable fashion and finding inspiration for re-styling what is already in your wardrobe could be your first step towards a more sustainable relationship with clothing.
Discovering our own unique style is a fantastic way we can free ourselves from the over-consumption trap of fast fashion trends. And yes, our style might change over time; a new job, starting a family or other life changes will require different clothing, but outside of that, embracing a sense of personal style that is not tied to trends will allow us to wear items for longer and love them over a lifetime.
To help you express your unique style here are four fashion styling principles to keep in mind:
COLOUR & PRINT
The first principle is all about the use of colours & prints.
We all have our preferences when it comes to colour and print and one of the most avant garde ways to dress is to combine different colours and prints - aka ‘pattern clashing’. This is the practice of wearing two different patterns at once. You can experiment with mixing different prints you might already have for a bold and eclectic look. If you’d like to try wearing a new print but aren’t yet ready for pattern clashing, you can try ‘feature prints’ by working with one statement print and pairing it back with complementary tones.
When it comes to playing with colour, there's many different approaches. The first is the monochrome look. Matching pieces together of the same colour and shade can create a cohesive and sophisticated look. Similar to monochrome is tonal dressing. This is the practice of combining different shades of the same colour in such a way to create a gorgeous harmonious ensemble. On the opposite side of the spectrum you have colour blocking. This is when you match contrasting colours together to create visually striking outfits. Here it is beneficial to have a basic understanding of the colour wheel and contrasting colours. Some examples of colours that contrast well are blue and orange or yellow and purple but it’s up to you to choose what looks best!
Personalise it - Take a look in your wardrobe and note which colours and/or patterns you have a lot of. What colours/prints make you feel happy and which do you like the look of with your hair and skin tone. From here you’ll have the beginnings of your own personalised approach to how you wear and combine tone, colour and pattern.
SHAPE & FIT
Understanding how to play with shape and silhouette can transform your outfits.
You might like to focus on contrast by combining different shapes and silhouettes to create visual interest. Pair fitted tops with wide-legged or flared pants for a balanced look. Contrasting shapes create a dynamic and eye-catching outfit. Having a combination of flowing/oversized garments and fitted garments in your wardrobe is a must have for styling. Creating balance in your look is crucial. A garment may have a simple silhouette with a striking design, or an interesting silhouette can be expressive enough on its own.
Using belts to cinch your waist over tops, dresses and even outerwear, such as a cardigan or a jacket can also be a great way to create shape and structure.
Personalise it - Take a look at the shapes in your wardrobe and note your favourites. Are you partial to more fitted garments or are you loving the oversized look? Note which shapes can be put together in different ways to create new looks.
Layering is a versatile styling technique that allows you to create a whole new outfit without buying new clothes.
The most essential items for layering are tights, undershirts, scarves, collared shirts, vests and outerwear. To create a well-layered outfit, start with a comfortable base layer (like our Dorsu long-sleeve tees). Add a middle layer such as a cardigan or denim jacket for depth. Choose a layer that complements the colors and style of your base layer. You can also incorporate different textures like chunky knits, cord, velvet or faux fur for visual interest. Pay attention to proportions and pair longer base layers with shorter middle layers. Finish with stylish outerwear like a coat or jacket.
Personalise it - This winter, notice what layers you gravitate towards, try layering things in new ways. Experiment and mix different pieces until you achieve a look that you feel your best in. With practice, layering helps you create effortless outfits that showcase your unique style.
Accessories are a fantastic way to express your personal style and elevate your outfits.
Some accessories to keep in mind are belts, scarves, hats, bags, sunglasses and jewellery. Use belts to cinch your waist and add a pop of colour. Get creative with scarves, wearing them as headbands, necklaces, or even belt accessories. Stack and mix bracelets. Top off your look with hats or headwear for added flair. Carry a statement bag that complements your outfit. Complete your look with fab eyewear. When it comes to accessorising the possibilities are endless. Jewellery is the perfect finishing touch. Experiment with statement necklaces, bold earrings, and chunky rings to add drama and sparkle to your ensemble.
Personalise it - Notice what sort of accessories you have in high rotation. What accessories do you own which have not been worn in a while and ask yourself - why? Is this a sign of your changing style and taste, or did you discover a few things you almost forgot you owned? Remember, accessorising is all about expressing your personal style and adding those extra details that make your outfit truly unique.
How to choose your one garment for Wear The Change?
When picking your garment for the Wear The Change challenge this year, here are a few things to consider:
- Choose something that makes you feel great and boosts your confidence. Whether it's a dress that flatters your figure or a super comfortable jumper, prioritize comfort and self-assurance.
- Opt for an item with a story. This could be a hand-me-down from a loved one, an item hand made by a friend, or a unique vintage find. It adds depth and sentimental value to your outfits.
- Select something versatile that can be styled in various ways to suit different occasions and moods. The most important thing is that the item has an element of sustainability. We encourage everyone to pick something that they already own or that was manufactured ethically and sustainably.
Join us for Wear The Change here - https://wearthechange.thesocialoutfit.org
Having a wardrobe crisis? Check out our Sustainable Style Webinar replay where we share inspiration for how you can infuse sustainability principles into the daily act of getting dressed.
Earlier this week, we held a Sustainable Style Webinar to help our community prepare for our annual Refugee Week Fundraiser - Wear The Change. We recorded the event for those who were unable to attend live, so grab your headphones and enjoy! We’re sure you'll find the insights, tips and discussion as stimulating as we did!
We were honoured to have Clare Press from The Wardrobe Crisis join us on the webinar to discuss how we can rewear and style joyfully in order to be more sustainable. She also goes into some detail on the impacts of the fashion on people and planet, some of the challenges we’re facing alongside some of the opportunities and innovations that are bringing hope.
Clare shared with us that in the 15 year period since the year 2000 annual clothing production has more than doubled, up from 50 billion garments to 100 bullion garments in 2015. When clothing is mass produced at this level it is very harmful for the environment and as much as 5% of carbon emissions come from the fashion industry. What's even worse is that 73% of all clothes will end up in landfill and are often brought to developing countries and left to sit on a dumping ground.
So what can we do about all this?
The Wear The Change campaign encourages us all to be more mindful with our fashion choices by inviting participants to restyle 1 garment 5 ways over 5 days.
“Wear the change is a practical application of what it really means to have sustainable fashion”. Clare Press
Clare mentions that the length of time you keep a garment in your wardrobe can have a much bigger impact on the environment than you’d think. For example, wearing 1 item for just 9 months longer than the point at which you think, “hmmm time to throw this one out”, can reduce its carbon, water and waste footprint by 20%. But in order to extend the life of our clothing, we need to care for them well (which includes how we wash them as well as our willingness to mend them) so they last longer. It also requires we get creative and find inspiration for how to restyle and enjoy wearing each garment longer so they still feel like a valuable member of our wardrobe ;)
To further unpack what Sustainable Style really means, Kate and Eliza from The Social Outfit discussed how you can infuse sustainability principles into the daily act of getting dressed.
These were their top tips:
1- Buy investment pieces from ethical sustainable brands
Buy clothes that are good quality that will last you a long time from brands that don’t harm the planet through their processes. ‘Good on You’ is an app you can use to check brand ratings on the issues that you are about.
2- Versatility - beyond trends
Shop for items that will be able to pair well with other items in your wardrobe. Try not to get caught up in fast fashion trends that will go in and out of style.
3- Garment Care
Take good care of your clothes. Follow their wash instructions and treat them well to ensure they will last you a long time.
When your clothes get damaged try your best to repair them. A simple needle and thread can sometimes derail an item from ending up in a landfill.
5- Swap, borrow, share, rent
You don’t always need to buy something new. Try reaching out to your friends when you're looking to try a new look. Many events require us to wear something that we may never need to wear again. Another solution is to rent clothing rather than buying it.
By incorporating these sustainable style principles into how we dress, we begin to care more about our garments, where they came from, how we treat them while they are with us, and what happens to them after we are done with them. And by discovering our own unique style we can free ourselves from the over consumption trap of fast fashion trends!!
We hope that everyone participating in the Wear The Change campaign will have fun getting creative with the art of dress and that the experience encourages reflection on what it means to be both sustainable and fashionable.
We finally did it - after living 2 years of the lockdown lifestyle, we were able to break the habit and come together as the beautiful, wonderful & diverse community we are!
Afghan Women’s Sewing Circle - since early February we began offering free sewing classes in Blacktown for a group of 20 Afghan women who arrived in Sydney late last year. This project has come together through partnerships with community leaders, the Afghan Community Support Association (ACSA) and CORE Community Services.
After all the restrictions on 2021, we are beyond thrilled to be running four brand new community programs and the Afghan Women’s Sewing Circle is one especially close to our hearts! The classes came about when a community leader – Hogai contacted us, asking if we could help support this group of recently arrived women, some of whom have tailoring experience.
We jumped at the chance to work together looping in a couple of other partner organisations to support with access to a community hall, nearby to the Blacktown Mosque (thanks ACSA!) and sewing machines (thanks CORE!) with The Social Outfit providing our projects team and two sewing trainers, including our Production Manager Joucelen and Marzia, one of our Afghan Sewing Technicians.
In consultation with the community, we have developed an 8-week program that would be easily accessible for the women, designed to offer free sewing classes to support social connectedness and contribute to a more positive settlement experience, while teaching basic textile construction and sewing.
The group bring a diverse range of skills with some of the women learning to use a sewing machine for the first time, some are learning to cut and others are using the time to develop and work on their own projects with resources and support from our team.
These weekly classes offer a stepping stone with pathways to build and consolidate skills suited to women interested in furthering their abilities in sewing with a view to progressing into TSO's earn and learn programs and growing their experience in textile manufacturing.
Marzia, who arrived from Afghanistan four years ago is assisting Joss with the classes. She says, “I feel very good for us to support these women because they need help. They need everything because Australia is a new country for them. Some of them know each other and are staying in the same hotel and they can bring their children with them because we have childcare. My job is to help them learn, some of them don't know how to thread a sewing machine so I will help them and when they don't know the name of something like a bobbin, I can translate.”
Joss shares, “The experience has been challenging but very fulfilling. It’s amazing to see these women who’ve come from such a volatile environment, take pleasure in making themselves a new garment. We’re working with absolute beginners all the way through to skilled tailors. Everyone needs a different kind of support, but we’re working with them to help realise their vision for what they each want to make.”
We’re providing fabrics and trims to the women and are looking to source some domestic machines to donate to them so they can work on their projects at home. If you have a machine you are no longer using please get in touch by emailing us at email@example.com!
Last week The Social Outfit Retail Trainees went on an excursion with THE UPSIDE. CEO Paul Burdekin and his passionate and energetic team offered our young retail trainees a day of work experience in their business including in retail, design, production and even the accounting department...