MEET | THE SOCIAL OUTFIT

WORDS BY LISA KJERULF 

With the launch of their new range Kaleido-kloth and celebrating three years in operation, we caught up with Jackie Ruddock, founder of The Social Outfit, to learn a little about the people behind this vibrant Australian label and what it means to be part of this creative sharing community.

 
  Jackie Ruddock , founder of  The Social Outfit

Jackie Ruddock, founder of The Social Outfit

 

Tell me a bit about what lead you to starting The Social Outfit?

One of the wonderful things about The Social Outfit is that right from the word go it has always been a group of people really passionate to set up what we wanted - to be a fashion label that makes a difference and really works creatively with the community. We are a replication of an existing organisation that sits in Melbourne – The Social Studio – our sister studio. I volunteered for them back in 2010 to 2011 and from there, I got see first-hand how their model really worked with utilising existing skills from the local community.

We began to look at setting up The Social Outfit in about 2012 and in about 2.5 years we became an incorporated charity – opening our doors to the public in late June 2014. So, the launch of Kaleido-cloth, the collection that is live right now, is the celebration of our 3 years in operation!

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    “There can be five different languages brought together in one room and it’s amazing to see what can be done”

Jackie Ruddock, founder of The Social Outfit

And what an incredible collection! Tell me a little more about the backbone of this project…

There are many new migrants and refugees who have really rich traditions in sewing and tailoring and the premise of The Social Outfit is to use those existing skills to help people put their best foot forward when they settle here in Australia. It’s often that when we are in a new situation, a nice way to start is by doing something that is familiar, something that helps us, therefore, build our confidence over time. That is the core of what helps The Social Outfit be what it is today, which then translates to creativity, community and people sharing their skills.

I think showcasing the talent of our new migrant communities is a really great way for us to build skills together and really show off the current diversity of Australia and our landscape. We have a proud aboriginal history and we have a very long-term migrant history and I guess I’m just interested in bringing communities together and seeing how we can collectively work for benefit. I think creativity is a really great way to do that. One of the greatest things about creativity is that you don’t need to be able to speak the same language. When everyone is together sewing or working on art projects it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the same language because you are involved in an activity with your hands and your mind. There can be five different languages brought together in one room and it’s amazing to see what can be done! It’s incredible that we have had people from over 30 countries involved with us to-date!

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“I think showcasing the talent of our new migrant communities is a really great way for us to build skills together and really show off the current diversity of Australia and our

landscape.”

Jackie Ruddock, founder of The Social Outfit

Do you see your brand educating the industry on how fashion has an opportunity to make real positive change in society?

In some ways. I think what has been great, and I think Kaleido-cloth exemplifies is that Australian designers are really keen to support our work. We have had 28 fashion labels and independent designs give prints or bits of fabric in support of our work and I think again it’s an example of the Australian spirit coming together to help one another. If you can create something where people can contribute in a meaningful way and in a way that they have skills for, it’s often easier for people to get involved. We have had the real pleasure of connecting with Australian designers who want and love seeing their fabric going to new iterations while supporting our community. It’s important because they have taken a lot of care with their own product and they want to see that care extended.  We are definitely people first, we would not want to lose sight of that and we feel like that focus on people and the best skills of people for collective gain is really what has led us to continue - celebrating 3 years now and hopefully many more years to come!

How do you go about planning each range? Is each range an entirely new concept working with a new set of people?

Yeah in a lot of ways and I think that’s what is so interesting. In some ways, I think we reflect some parts of the fashion industry and for others we are a little bit different. Because we literally manufacture on site – it is boutique manufacturing, artisanal if you like. What’s really great about that is that we are constantly creating and we are always testing. We do work to collections and Kaleido-cloth is our latest range. When creating our ranges, we like to really look to the talent of our fashion communities and with Kaleido-cloth we collaborated with Romance Was Born, a beloved Australian label. It’s been outstanding and we really like working with the Australian fashion industry.

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“It’s quite diverse and it’s artistic, but it works together and is a metaphor for Australia.”

Jackie Ruddock, founder of The Social Outfit

Then we also look to our own community so in this collection we featured the work of two Karen-Burmese artists from Melbourne who have done amazing textural tapestry work and we’ve put their work onto fabric. It is really about showcasing the artists within the refugee and migrant community. And then one of the other collaborations we’ve done is working with the young new migrant refugee communities from the Merrylands region as in western Sydney. Jessica Lee Parker, who works with us, did a creative collaborative collage project with the young people which was then transformed into our vibrant Merrylands print. It’s really exciting because we aim to be joyful and bright. That is our message and you will see that the collection itself represents that. It’s quite diverse and it’s artistic, but it works together and is a metaphor for Australia. It really showcases working together!

Exactly… It all comes full circle!

Exactly!

If you’re looking at the fashion industry now as it is, what do you feel needs to change?

Well we know research has shown that the current fashion landscape can have incredibly negative impacts. It’s the second most polluting industry in the world and, of course, we know there are real concerns of human rights and environmental impacts. It means it’s really important to know what’s happening in your industry because we can’t keep ourselves apart from it. We are accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia which is about ensuring a fair and safe living wage for people.

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“We want beautiful products while treating people beautifully and I think we can do it.”

Jackie Ruddock, founder of The Social Outfit

I think, again, it’s that thing about fashion being a massive complex industry, but there are shining examples of being able to do immensely creative and beautiful work and that’s where we want to be. We want beautiful products while treating people beautifully and I think we can do it. We also know and what research shows is that more and more customers are really interested in this. More and more customers are loving that they can see their products being made. Loving that they know people are being looked after. Loving that the care that they take with their own clothes is reflected in how those clothes were made in the first place. I think that there is a growing movement for of this kind of work and consumers can lead quite a lot of that. It’s another way for people to really get involved which is great.

It’s true I think there is definitely a shift happening. It’s so amazing to see organizations like yours doing these great things and starting the conversation. I think it’s those conversations that start to get people to think a little bit more as well…

Exactly, and like we said before it is a community too. We know that there are other amazing ethical labels doing work and we want to work in respect. No one thing changes our behaviours. You work together as a group for the collective to help engage people, help us all learn more, help us all make better decisions that are ethical and good ones!

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“No one thing changes our behaviours. You work together as a group for the collective to help engage people, help us all learn more, help us all make better decisions that are ethical and good ones!”

Jackie Ruddock, founder of The Social Outfit