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The Social Outfit seals “game-changer” contract win

08:15am May 07 2024

Two women work on garments in The Social Outfit workroom. (Supplied)

The Social Outfit, a Westpac Foundation partner, has sealed a landmark supply contract with the bank which it hopes will be a template for more procurement deals with big business.  

The ethical fashion social enterprise, which provides employment opportunities to refugee and new migrant women, will sew around 2,000 scarves and pocket squares to be worn by Westpac’s branch staff. The agreement was struck in collaboration with the bank’s uniform supplier Workwear Group.

“For us, this is truly a game changer because it opens up an avenue of getting more work so that we can hire more women in our manufacturing workroom,” Camilla Schippa, CEO of The Social Outfit, told Wire in an interview.

It’s the biggest business-to-business contract The Social Outfit has won, and marks something of a departure from its focus on retail fashion via collaborations with designers including Bianca Spender

Signing up corporate clients can unlock more reliable revenue streams to enable the social enterprise to expand the employment opportunities it can offer, Schippa says. 

“We are currently in discussion with a number of bigger clients based on what we’ve done with Westpac,” says Schippa. One potential client is a museum that is looking to get fabric covers made for some of its artworks.

“If we can get 10 of these sorts of contracts, that means we can grow considerably.”

The Social Outfit CEO Camilla Schippa. (Supplied)

The Social Outfit was founded in Sydney’s Inner West in 2014 with a dual mission to train and employ refugee women while utilising remnant and deadstock fabrics to save tons of material from going to landfill.

Like most social enterprises which focus on offering jobs to people who face challenges entering the workforce, The Social Outfit has higher operating costs than for-profit businesses. 

“A lot of the women we employ need to be upskilled – it can take a lot of time for them to get faster, become more professional and learn the Australian standards,” Schippa says.

An “Earn & Learn” program offers paid work experience for less experienced sewers who want to learn and develop their skills using industrial sewing machines. 

In addition, The Social Outfit helps the women adapt to their new country. That can range from helping them set up a bank account, to improving their language skills, and educating them in workplace rights. 

Those higher costs make it hard for The Social Outfit to compete with more traditional businesses, and that’s why the support of big business is so important.

“At Westpac, we have long recognised the opportunities our supply chain creates to direct procurement spend towards businesses like The Social Outfit that are doing great work to promote social and economic participation,” says Brian Hagen, Westpac’s Chief Procurement Officer.

Scarves for Westpac branch staff being sewn at The Social Outfit. (Supplied)

Westpac Foundation has been a long-standing partner of The Social Outfit and through that relationship the bank already had a strong understanding of how the organisation operated and the quality of the work it produced, he adds. 

The organisation celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year having trained over 900 and employed more than 100 refugee women. For over 80 per cent of those employed, The Social Outfit represented their first Australian job. 

Camilla Schippa hopes to grow that number exponentially in the years ahead through more deals like the one with Westpac.     

Isaiah Vidler is an intern working in Westpac's corporate affairs and community team. He's also a university student studying for a Bachelor of Journalism degree at the University of Wollongong.

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