Q&A: The Aussie label throwing a spanner in the works(wear)

Having worked in male-dominated industries most of her life as a labourer on long-haul ships, on farms and building sites, Mimosa Schmidt branched out on her own to launching SÜK Workwear, ethically-made workwear for women. The business has ethics at its core – all garments are vegan, free from harsh chemicals, made by manufacturers at the forefront of ethical production practices and the packaging is biodegradable and home compostable. The label also has a charity partner, The Social Studio, which is given $1 from every sale.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind you giving up your previous career to start your own business with SÜK?

MS: I’ve always enjoyed physical work, working with livestock, on boats, on building sites – the sort of work that’s often seen as jobs that men do. And yet that enjoyment was outweighed by relentless harassment working in those industries and the negative aspects of the job were reinforced by having to rely on men’s workwear. I had the idea for SÜK burning away in the back of my mind and after a decade of feeling intimidated, sexualised and unwelcome, I was incredibly ready to create something that would encourage change.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge in making the shift from labourer to entrepreneur?

MS: Running a business is very different from, say, loading sheep into a pen. Being solely responsible for a business can feel overwhelming at times. The smallest error or miscommunication can cause weeks of delay. Learning to switch off and not obsess about every single detail involved in each project is challenging but vital. Gone are the days of chucking the tools away and leaving the work onsite. I also miss the physical aspect of working with my body, so I’ve developed a diabolical gym addiction in attempt to keep myself balanced.

ISB: How have you incorporated your determination to be an ethical business into the design and manufacture of your workwear range?

MS: I’ve put a lot of thought into how to minimise the negative impacts of our business. I spent months in Pakistan finding the right factory and inspecting fabric mills, ensuring that they are ethically and environmentally qualified to an extremely high standard. We use

virtually no plastic, replacing it with biodegradable, home-compostable packaging. With the climate crisis officially declared last month, this is something we will be continually striving to improve on…being “ethical” is not just a static box you can tick.

ISB: And please tell us a little about the social enterprise aspect of the business.

MS: We donate $1 of every garment sold to The Social Studio, a beautiful NFP organisation based in Collingwood, Victoria. Their work focuses on creating training and employment opportunities in and around the fashion industry for young people from refugee and new migrant backgrounds. They have such fresh style, vibrant energy and operate in such a radically transparent way. I’m so proud we’re in partnership with them and that they feel SÜK’s intentions align with theirs is such a huge vote of confidence for what we’re trying to do with our brand.

ISB: What is your vision for the growth and development of SÜK in the next couple of years?

MS: Women are plumbers, engineers, farmers, carpenters, truck drivers and for years they’ve had to do the work in men’s clothes, which simply reinforces the prejudice that they’re second-class workers (“chicks in men’s clothing”). I’m judging the success of SÜK by the number of women we can fit out in workwear, and the donations we make. Both aspects have a mammoth amount of scope for expansion, so I’ve got my life’s work cut out for me! I’d like to see SÜK become a household name, so the idea of feminine power and physical capabilities is widely accepted and respected.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one piece of advice you’d give to those looking to eschew a stable income to start their own business?

MS: You might be surprised how many people out there are keen to help you if you’re honest and willing to listen. I’m starting to recognise that owning a business can be a lonely experience, so if you are genuine and respectful, others will be eager to share their experiences with you.

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