MercyCare / News / Refugee and migrant women find sense of purpose upcycling old uniforms

Refugee and migrant women find sense of purpose upcycling old uniforms

The upcycle project is run by local social enterprise group LOOP, which partners with large companies like Water Corp and Clough to repurpose used corporate uniforms by engaging people from disadvantaged backgrounds, including refugees and new migrants, and providing them with the opportunity to utilise skills common in this group.

MercyCare Employment Liaison Officer Jacqui Whelan says the project gives the women a sense of purpose and fulfilment, while also upskilling them with business skills like invoicing and allowing them to generate income.

“It’s about building confidence in the women while also utilising their skills and this could potentially spark an interest in building their own enterprise using the skills they have – many of the women are highly skilled seamstresses,” Jacqui said.

“It’s a really important project, because it not only fosters social inclusion it also gives the women the opportunity to contribute financially to their families – for many this is their first income since arriving in Australia.”

Women get together weekly at MercyCare’s Mirrabooka office to turn old workwear into reusable duffle bags.

The women are MercyCare clients who have come to Australia as refugees or asylum seekers from countries including Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia, Burma/Myanmar, Iran and Afghanistan.

They have sought support through MercyCare’s Multicultural Services via the Step by Step, SETS Innovation and Employment programs, which are designed to provide refugee and new migrants resettling in WA with opportunities to enter the workforce through skills development, training and work placements, or even starting an enterprise. 

“For women from refugee backgrounds, there are many barriers to entering the traditional workforce, including language barriers and training, but for many sewing is a skill they already have,” Jacqui said.

“This project provides an opportunity for the women to use their existing skills to help transform the redundant workwear into tote bags and drawstring bags, all while getting paid for their work.”

Future plans could see some women who can’t sew be apart of the cutting process.

As the project progresses, they will also learn how to make new products such as toys and duffle bags.

“When we first advertised the project, we had over 25 women turn up. Many couldn’t sew but were keen to find out about how they could learn and make the bags.

Future plans for the project would look at setting up a production line that includes women who can’t sew in the cutting process, and referring them to sewing lessons so that they can eventually sew their own products from home.

“We are also going to connect them with our No Interest Loans if they need to purchase a sewing machine for home use,” Jacqui said.

For each bag the women sew, they can earn up to $14.

For each bag the women create, they receive $10 to $14 from LOOP depending on the complexity of the product.

 “It’s great to see the women become so enthusiastic for this project, which is helping both themselves and the environment,” Jacqui said.

“The project not only benefits the women but also the environment by diverting redundant workwear from landfill, which aligns with one of MercyCare’s Mission Ethos Shapers centred on Ecological Awareness and Behaviour, which aims to champion the environment across our services.