Imagine a future where refugees arriving in Australia are warmly welcomed and supported with pathways to education and employment, ensuring a positive settlement experience.
Imagine if we celebrated our diversity and cultural strengths through vibrant multi-cultural Australian workplaces.
The Social Outfit is a non-profit social enterprise that provides training and employment in the fashion industry to people from refugee and new migrant communities in clothing production, retail, design and marketing.
We do this because humanitarian migrants face the highest barriers to employment of all disadvantaged groups in Australia - only 20% of female humanitarian migrants are engaged in the workforce. The Social Outfit has responded to this social issue by offering customised programs that focus on providing first Australian jobs, work-ready training and pathways into ongoing employment through our social enterprise fashion label and network of industry partners.
To date, over 400 people from refugee and new migrant backgrounds have benefited from our programs, we have provided over $600,000 in wages for more than 30,000 labour hours worked and offered numerous free community outreach and training programs in creative arts, sewing and textile design.
With the challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis, we need our community of donors and key supporters to come together, now more than ever, to ensure The Social Outfit can continue its work on a path of increased impact!
Impacts of COVID-19 on The Social Outfit and the communities we work with
On 23 March 2020, The Social Outfit’s store in Newtown was indefinitely closed to the public, resulting in a loss of 78% of retail sales income in April. Our workroom is still open, operating at reduced capacity as we are prioritising the health and safety of staff while continuing to keep our team employed and maintaining social connection through online apps such as Zoom and WhatsApp. All our face-to-face community classes have been suspended and are being replaced with online initiatives.
Refugee communities are particularly vulnerable at this time and we recognise that as many of our staff and students are isolating (and working) at home, they are experiencing increased stress. We needed to act fast to support our team and have already begun to adapt our approaches to manufacturing and community programs to meet their needs in the current climate.
These changes are both an immediate response to COVID-19 and a long-term strategic development, which will enable The Social Outfit to re-emerge in a stronger position, extend its reach and grow its impact.
3 Key Strategies we have used to adapt to COVID-19 and pave the way for long term growth and impact
As a small dynamic social enterprise, our team rapidly adapted to COVID-19 to ensure the social and financial well-being of our staff and student community. In the process, we have unlocked some exciting long-term strategic developments, which will enable us to not only continue the work but do so with increased reach, impact and sustainable business growth.
The core strategies we have used to adapt our sales, manufacturing and community programs are outlined below:
1) Working to Grow our Earned Revenue via Online Sales: With our store closed and retail sales down over 70%, we’ve directed our focus toward growing online sales. We are ramping up our content marketing strategy by reactivating our blog and social media calendar to grow our reach and generate more traffic to our website. We’ve engaged a pro-bono consultant to support us with the development of a robust e-commerce growth strategy and cost analysis.
Additionally, our retail traineeship for young new migrants has pivoted towards online retail, sales and marketing which simultaneously enables us to keep our trainees engaged while the shop is closed and boost our team’s digital marketing capacity.
2) Made to Order and Zero Waste Manufacturing: The retail store may be closed but we are keeping our sewers employed and have recently launched our Autumn/Winter 2020 Collection – a huge achievement, we are incredibly proud of our manufacturing team. This collection will be exclusively “Made to Order” and is entirely made from remnant fabric that would have otherwise ended up in landfill.
“Made to Order” is in line with our values, it ensures we reduce waste and supports us to reduce costs. We are in the process of further developing our online sales policies, size charts and customer support to enable our buyers to purchase with confidence via our website.
3) Adapting the Content and Delivery Method of our Community Programs: The Social Outfit has swiftly pivoted to online learning in order to support our community during lockdowns. We suspended our face-to-face classes including the Retail Training Program and our “Earn and Learn” Sewing Class in mid-March, and within a few weeks launched our first online class. This has been an incredibly lean, self-funded experiment designed to quickly respond to community needs, gain feedback and proof of concept.
The adapted Retail Training Program will focus on online sales and marketing including e-commerce systems, website management, content marketing and social media. These skills can be applied to a variety of industries and workplaces, supporting trainees to be job-ready for not only the future of retail but also the future of work.
The Sewing Classes have pivoted towards online textile handcrafts (crochet, patchwork, embroidery) which lend themselves well to online teaching. By learning together via live video, our community can stay connected while creating something beautiful from recycled fabrics, keeping their spirits up and their hands active. We offer pathways to income via our "Earn and Learn" initiative, as student products can be sold via our Community Market Place.
While these changes to our programs are an immediate response to adapt to the current challenges, we believe they provide a long-term strategic development for our social enterprise. Importantly, online learning will enable us to expand our reach, make training programs more accessible and leverage new revenue streams.
By starting the online programs early we are gaining valuable feedback from our self-funded pilot. Our student community has shown us they are eager to learn, adapting well to online delivery and happy with the shifts in class content. We are gaining ongoing input from our students, trainers, industry partners and corporates as we prepare to develop a more sophisticated online learning platform, thoughtfully designed to meet our social impact outcomes.
How you can help
Whilst this has been a challenging time, our team is becoming stronger and more resilient through our recent adaptations to the COVID-19 crisis.
We believe the strategies we have adopted to weather the storm represent a very exciting strategic pivot to enable us to grow our reach and impact and with your support – that is exactly what we will do.
At this time we are in need of $30,000 to help us cover the upfront costs of moving our training programs online, along with a reconfiguration of our manufacturing and sales systems to streamline our made to order processes and facilitate online sales growth.
As outlined above, our team has already begun adapting our work to the current situation and are learning a lot! We are rapidly up-skilling, researching, working with consultants and gaining input from key beneficiaries and stakeholders.
The Social Outfit is in need of philanthropic support to enable us to implement the necessary changes to move our work online and pave the way for future sustainable growth and increased social impact.
Please donate to The Social Outfit’s
End of Financial Year Fundraising Campaign today!
Your tax-deductible donation will help The Social Outfit continue our work, grow our reach & impact into the future.