Upcycling old workwear provides job opportunities for refugee and asylum seeker women For the past two months, a group of refugee and asylum seeker women have come together at MercyCare’s Mirrabooka office to upcycle used workwear into reusable bags and other items.
“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,” MercyCare Employment Liaison Officer Jacqui Whelan said.
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 and providing them with the opportunity to gain employment and skills training.
For each item sewn from the workwear that would have otherwise been disposed of, the women receive $10 to $14 from LOOP depending on the complexity of the product. But the women aren’t the only ones to benefit from the project, with the environment also better off – so far LOOP has helped divert around 3.4 tonnes of redundant workwear from landfill.
“It’s great to see the women become so enthusiastic for this project, which is helping both themselves and the environment,” Jacqui said.
“Many of the women are highly skilled seamstresses, so it’s about building confidence in the women while also utilising their skills. The project gives the women a sense of purpose and fulfilment, while also upskilling them with business skills like invoicing, in addition to earning an income.”
So far, the project has drawn a diverse group of MercyCare clients who have come to Australia as refugees or asylum seekers from countries like Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia, Burma/Myanmar, Iran and Afghanistan.
The women 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.
“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.” Jacqui said.
As the project progresses, the women will learn how to make new products such as toys and duffle bags, with plans to set up a production line that includes women who can’t sew in the cutting process and offering sewing lessons so they can eventually sew their own products from home.