Canberra's ethical clothing enterprise No Sweat Fashions has shut its doors after three years of teaching migrants and refugees to sew and produce collections with local designers.
Founder and chief executive Cindy Mitchell said it was a difficult decision to close No Sweat but it had run for three years "on love" and volunteer effort and could not grow without full-time attention.
The non-profit No Sweat Fashions operated out of a studio at the University of Canberra High School in Kaleen, and taught migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to sew, cut patterns and produce garments in collaboration with Canberra designers. It produced several collections, including a scarf that could be twisted into a bag or a wrap, and bags made from East African fabrics.
Ms Mitchell, who also works full time in the public service, said it had become unsustainable to continue on volunteer work alone.
"The main thing is we want to be clear to communicate that it's not about a lack of support for our enterprise," she said. "We've been very fortunate to have some stalwart supporters in the UC HIgh School at Kaleen, the Snow Foundation and Aspen Foundation. Because there is no seed funding for social enterprise, we've worked for the past three years on love."
She said the project needed people "who have a lot of time and energy and capacity to really reconcile dealing with complex disadvantage among refugees, migrants and then trying to build a sustainable business model".
"It's really gotten to the point where we don't have the capacity to carry it out. With myself as volunteer CEO to try and do that and have a demanding job and a young family, I think the board [of directors] really got to the point where we saw that."
Ms Mitchell set up No Sweat Fashions as a social enterprise aiming to tell "the migrant garment worker story in a very different way", and help migrants and refugees earn a fair wage for their sewing and tailoring skills.
But she said it took a long time to get other businesses to accept that fair-wage model and it also took a lot of time and effort to achieve a certain standard in sewing and tailoring among the trainees. No Sweat also needed to employ someone to grow the project but could not afford to pay them.
"It was a catch-22. It was becoming clear that we couldn't develop the business plan without someone to drive it, and we couldn't afford that person without the business plan."
Ms Mitchell said No Sweat had helped about 50 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to learn sewing and tailoring skills, and designers, clients, volunteers and students had also been involved.
She said she was grateful for the support from volunteers, donors and other community organisations and was now in the process of winding up No Sweat, ensuring people involved in the project were looked after and assets and equipment were passed on to other organisations that would use them.