Second Stitch – Mending Connects Community

Sometimes your mending pile piles up…even when you’ve learnt to mend. So we spoke to Rachel Wood, one of the Studio Coordinators and Trainers from Second Stitch to find out more about the story of their not-for-profit social enterprise that has a mending and alternations studio, a shop front in Coburg and more! Second Stitch have a focus on community building, as well as a zero waste philosophy behind their work.

Rachel in the shop front.

Emily (ZWV): Thanks for making the time today. So tell us a bit about Second Stitch in this beautiful space in Coburg…

Rachel: So we’ve been in this building, or we’ve been an organisation building for about four years. And so it started off with just a few people gathering in the space – just in this very small area. There was a few students that would get together and just start repairing their clothes for their family and their kids and their clothes would break or they need to fix them. And so that was gaining some interest.

We’re a part of a wider organization, VICSEG New Futures, a registered training organisation. And so, at that point, there was some interest amongst students and staff members around textiles. And so many people would gather in this space after their classes repairing their garments. And then because there was so much interest being a registered training organisation, they decided that while it might be worthwhile to put a certificate in clothing and textiles on the scope, in which case, it meant that we were able to start running classes in this entire space.

Smiles all round the studio.

So before this was this big, it was a Taekwondo studio. They put in some skylights and got some beautiful plants in here. And now we’re able to teach Certificate III training in here, in clothing and textile production.

What’s also been really great in that course, there are lots of different units. So we have a unit in sustainability and zero waste designs and patterns, and how to minimize a lot of that textile waste. And then there’s also a repairs and alteration unit worked into that course. So because that was of interest to us.

Second Stitch has grown and we’ve been able to have a team working in an alteration service. So we do repairs and alterations for the community. But we also work with other businesses. So people that might have a fashion collection, and maybe their volumes, they have some pieces, which maybe don’t make it into production, or they get damaged in production. And they might bring us bigger loads so that we can repair their garments so that they can be resold. So that’s been really great.

And then we also have a small production team that works with not only our fabrics in our studio, which are mostly recycled or end of the roll. But other businesses who might have end of the roll fabrics and want more collections make having things made for their collections.

Magpie Goose (a First Nations owned & run clothing company) recently contacted us. They came over with a series of off cuts that they they get from their production, still good sizes, some small sizes. And so they worked with us and our patent makers, and our design team to come up with a collection of accessories that would fit in with the size of the scraps, so that they could go on for sale and have no textile waste, which is awesome.

Magpie Goose scrunchies from scraps.

We work with other fabric distributors or upholstery makers, like Warwick Textiles, who’ve been a really great supporter of us. They’ll make their beautiful couches and have these beautiful fabrics made into couches and ottomans and then they just end up with maybe two or three meters left on a roll that can’t be used for anything. And so they actually donate them to us. And from that we can go on to make beautiful products for our shop, which cuts down our costs in terms of our production. But it also means that they’re able to reduce their waste and not maybe pay for textile recycle or something like that.

We also get donations from the community. So people will come in and notice that we’re a school. And they’re always asking us if we would like any donations, so fabrics, trims, notions, zips, threads, lots of things, often from you know, maybe people that have passed on and have amazing collections at home that their families need to figure out how to, you know, get rid of their things. Sometimes people that have maybe just moved on from the sewing dreams onto something else. Yeah, so we’re doing a lot!

It’s all worked into our vision for this space, which is to really be reducing our impact in every way that we can. And really encouraging the community to restore and, repair their existing clothes. I think that’s really been great to see the community shifting their focus.

Emily (ZWV): Speaking of community, you’re providing great opportunities, could you tell us more about that?

The happy bustling studio.

Rachel: Yeah. So we work with all members of the community. But we’re predominantly employing people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds, so people that are newly arrived or recently settled in Australia, so we often run a free community sewing day (Open Seam) that’s had to stop just because of CO-VID. We will be opening it up again – it’s a great way for people to meet each other and bond over a skill or an opening to meet people that are like minded. And from that, we often get lots of people that might be recently arrived and have minimal English skills. So being able to communicate over something like sewing – we can just communicate in the art of sewing – we don’t need all the language, and we don’t need all that complication. So we can really just come together and, communicate that way.

From there, people find themselves really comfortable with our staff, and maybe want to take the next step. That’s often joining in the Certificate III program, or maybe one of our other educational programs. And then from that we can often provide real life experience in our alterations and repair service to gain more skills and more confidence. The aim is to get these people employed and having ways to earn an income and a livelihood for their time here in Australia. It’s really beautiful.

Emily (ZWV): What great opportunities! Is there a particular moment (or moments) that stands out for you so far? How long have you been involved with Second Stitch?

Rachel : Well, it’s been four years and I came on as one of the trainers. So I came on before the course had actually gone out. So I think one of the experiences that stands out the most I would say would be when I taught my first class. One of my first classes here was a bilingual class with people from Iraq, and Iran, and Syria. And I don’t speak Arabic, but I had a wonderful translator, and just to be able to graduate that first group, and have them go on with a portfolio into the world and have more opportunities. That really, really, really will always stand out to me.

Emily (ZWV): Yeah, that first class. That’s always special!

Rachel: Yeah, but so many, so many things!

Emily (ZWV): Absolutely! Could you share some of the challenges that you/Second Stitch have come across?

Mending in action.

Rachel: Yeah, there’s always challenges. People have all different sort of things, stopping them from getting from A to B. We’re working with people from lots of different age groups and lots of different situations. So we just try and approach things, on a individual level, and try and support each person for what they need. But especially throughout CO-VID, that’s been a huge challenge for us. Lots of people aren’t set up for remote learning. And so to be able to continue the course, throughout CO-VID, was really difficult. We did give it a go. We tried to do the remote learning with computers and all of that. But this is not the same. It’s not the same quality and it’s really about being here in a practical sense. So that was probably the biggest challenge that I faced here as a trainer is deciding to put the classes on hold. But then, now that they’re back open, and we’ve retained our students, and everyone’s come back and completing the course in a more valuable ways is really important to us. So yeah, that’s been been a big one.

Emily (ZWV): Yeah, absolutely. Last year is such a big challenge in so many ways. Especially something like this. It’s so hands on and you have language as another layer.

Rachel: You really have to be there and you have to understand someone’s circumstance or even from day to day, we’re all dealing with different things and some days you can come in and you’re on fire in the front of the machine, and then other days, it takes a few goes to get back into it and having someone actually there – like a trainer or support and your friends that you’re doing the course with – it’s just so important. That physical connection, I think is just really, really important people.

Emily (ZWV): Yeah. It really is. Regarding zero waste, are there any particular other things you’d like to highlight?

Donated materials.

Rachel: Yeah. So I guess we’re just really trying to help educate the community as well that taking care of the garments is really important. And knowing where things come from is really important and really trying to investigate a little bit further into where you’re buying your your items from, and that when you’re buying from. A space like this, it’s not only impacting some of our seamstresses’ livelihoods, but it’s also impacting the textile industry. And we just want to make sure that people are really thinking about that, going forward. We are also really keen on like letting people know that any textile waste can be recycled, and that is growing in Australia as well. And there are many places in your neighborhoods that you can actually take any textile waste to be recycled. Reach out to organizations like ours and neighborhood houses, because anything that you’re thinking you might throw away could actually be really valuable to any spaces around the neighborhood. There’s lots and if you’ve got a really awesome creative idea, just reach out because we have a big community. So if it’s not the right project, for us, it might be the right project for somebody else. And if we’re all kind of helping each other out and passing on the word, then I think that we’ll be doing great things for our community and what we’re doing to reduce our waste as a whole.

Emily (ZWV): Yeah, definitely. Just looking at some of your products, you’ve got some cutlery pouches and items – could you talk us through some of your items?

Rachel: Absolutely. So we often get recycled textile PET filling. We ended up getting a whole bunch of that two or three years ago, thinking how are we ever going to get through this? But we are trying to develop more products. So this particular round cushion, the insert is not actually a bought insert, it’s a handmade insert using our recycled PET inside, and the outers are all the textile waste from Warwick fabrics. So that’s why they’re always different colours, and they always tend to look a little bit different.

Zero waste design – The eyemask utilises the neck hole of the bib.

So our bibs and our eye pillows – they are designed to fit in with some of the scraps that we use. So we design that pattern to fit in with a scrap of another product. So the eye pillows, actually the small cut out from the middle of the bib, essentially fit in that when we cut it up. And so trying to figure out ways that we can be smarter in our own pattern designs to really reduce that waste.

Our storage tubs generally are made out of upcycled fabrics. So Warwick fabrics or anything that comes in from the community are bolsters, they’re really great. They’re filled with textile waste. So a bolster generally you want it to be a little bit stiffer than just your regular pillow. So by filling it with textile waste, it’s nice and firm, it holds your body up before you do stretches on it. Sometimes they need to be refilled. So we’re always happy for people to pop back in and we can re-stuff them and get them filled. We’ve got picnic rugs, which we patchwork because sometimes our scraps are small and so we need to patchwork the fibers together in order to make them kind of fit.

Then we’ve got veggie bags, which are made from curtain off cuts. So always different fibers, but it’s important that they are lightweight. So when you’re going through the checkout, they’re not adding to the weight. And so they work really well, you can put your fruit and veggie in them in the fridge and keeps your fruit and veggies fresh or you just take them to the supermarket with you – they’re really great. They’re one of our top sellers and all time, those veggie bags.

Screen printing their logo onto donated material to create their own labels.

What else have we got? Scrunchies are always great because these smaller pieces we can always fit them into a small scrap. So thinking about like smaller products is really helpful. And often some of the best scraps are always the smallest pieces. So, our scrunchies always look amazing.

Bum bags. So if we ever do need to source, a certain fabric we do so in what we hope is the most sustainable way. So working with fabric distributors that are able to supply us with more organic and sustainable fabrics and fibers. And then we’ve got some other bum bags, smaller pieces in that bumbag. So again, we can use some of that donated fabrics.

For our masks straps, a lot of them were donated fabrics. This particular mask here, we had a local company contact us they had made some handkerchiefs they were used to wrap presents, and they just never got through them. So they had this brand new fabric in a big stack. And it was just the perfect fiber to be able to make another product out of and it turned out that we could make a whole bunch of masks from that. And that went really well. We also had like ‘special edition’ floral masks from some donated fabrics, which did really well for us as well. So whatever we can do, we will recycle it into something else.

Emily (ZWV): Amazing! Our classic final question is around, what’s your advice for people that you’d like to share such as tips for people on their journey on zero waste?

Zero waste t-shirt design utilising one piece of square material.

Rachel : Keep up to date with what’s happening in the world and making sure that you’re asking questions, and that you’re doing lots of reading and research, and just connecting with people and getting involved on projects. There’s so many things that you can do. Especially there’s local councils that are putting on some really great things that you can get involved in even like grants that you can apply for which are really encouraging zero waste. And I would just really want people just to get out there and and start learning more and supporting spaces like this. Because the more support we have, the more people we can actually help in their journeys. And just spreading the word about what we, and organisations like us, are doing is really important

Emily (ZWV): That’s incredible. Thank you very much for sharing.

Rachel: Thank you for dropping in!

Second Stitch is a not-for-profit social enterprise that celebrates the unique skills, traditions and stories of refugees, migrants and people seeking asylum. You can find out more, support them, get your clothes mended or altered and more at https://www.secondstitch.org.au/.

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