31st October 2019
Sometimes when a plan comes together, people say that the stars have aligned, making all the hard work behind the plan sound like some kind of celestial good fortune that drifted effortlessly from the ether.
With the announcement nearly three years ago that the school uniform would be updated, Junior School parent, Kate Mahony wondered what would become of the old uniform items that were no longer required and set about what in reality is hard work, making stars align.
For the past three years, Kate has devoted herself to achieving a Zero Waste outcome for unwanted Girton uniform items, starting with the establishment of the Secondhand Uniform Shop in Girton House in the Junior School.
Put simply, Kate says she cannot bear the waste of unused uniforms.
“A few of us came across boxes of old uniform items when we were setting up for the School Fair in 2018 and thought it would be a good idea to sell the items for $5 each at the Fair. This basically became the beginning of the Secondhand Uniform shop,” she said.
The secondhand uniform shop has now been humming along for two years under Kate’s guidance with the assistance volunteer parents and students who help to sort items during lunchtime. Kate sees the uniform shop as much more than somewhere to purchase clothes.
“The uniform shop has been so well received by parents and has become a bit of a community hub and a great place for a chat,” she said.
Now that the uniform transition period is coming to an end, many uniform items have been donated but will no longer be able to be worn by the students, so Kate has been putting her mind to the next phase of the secondhand uniform shop’s life.
“Through the sheer volume of excellent quality of goods, I felt there had to be a solution to the potential waste that was going to be generated. I spoke with many, many people, about a possible solution and eventually, I was introduced to Father Junray Rayna at St Kilian’s Parish Church which was the turning point to our uniform waste challenge,” Kate said.
Father Junray Ryagna has a strong association with the Pangamihan Elementary School in the mountainous part of Cebu in the Philippines. Although he lives in Bendigo, Father Junray visits the school often and has donated many items to support the 300 students who attend the school, and most recently, assisted with the renovation of the very basic school buildings.
The families who send their children to the Pangamihan Elementary School sacrifice much to support their children’s education. Many children walk up to two hours each way, to and from school, each day. The school is well supported by a community of parents and has amazing young teachers who come from the city each week and sleep at the school, returning to their own families on weekends. School children are boys and girls aged from Kindergarten to Year 6, and the school does not currently have a school uniform.
Kate invited Father Junray to the secondhand uniform shop to inspect the uniform items that could potentially be donated, and he was delighted.
This is where the hard-earned stars begin not so much to magically align, but to be put in place.
The next challenge was to work out how the Girton logo could be removed or covered from clothing items and re-branded to suit the Pangamihan Elementary School so that the uniform could truly become theirs.
An introduction to “SisterWorks” has led to a new and exciting project.
SisterWorks is an international non-profit social enterprise based in Melbourne supporting women who are refugees, asylum seekers or migrants, to improve their confidence, mental wellbeing and sense of belonging. Amongst other services provided by the organisation, women come together to make crafts and learn the fundamentals of retail sales, predominantly through two stores in Melbourne located in Richmond and South Yarra. The organisation is founded by Luz Restrepo, a medical doctor who arrived in Australia seeking political asylum. The mantra of the organisation is that to support each other is to strengthen each other.
SisterWorks suggested that they might sew printed Elementary School logos onto the Girton second-hand uniform items and soon enough a connection was made with Ifrin Fittock, the General Manager of SisterWorks, who visited Bendigo in the School Holidays to look at the Girton uniform stock.
“Ifrin was overwhelmed by the volume of stock that we had and was genuinely pleased that a school might concern itself with the issue of waste and of repurposing uniform items for those in need.
“SisterWorks is just establishing in Bendigo, so our timing was perfect.
“The re-purposing of the Girton uniforms is a huge undertaking so we set about investigating whether the women who are part of SisterWorks might carry out their sewing onsite at the School, to make logistics easier, but importantly, to provide a hub and support these women in need.
“With the permission from the School and the Board, we have now secured a large space within Girton House, immediately upstairs from the uniform shop itself, for the women to repurpose the Girton uniform items.
“With the money that the uniform shop has made over the past couple of years, we have been able to print the Elementary School logo onto fabric, and now we will engage Sister Works to sew over the old Girton logos on school shirts, polo shirts and shorts.
“Some items that are not suitable to be worn will also be considered for repurposing by the Sisters. For example, we imagine that old jumpers might be cut up into squares and sewn together to make rugs for local animal shelters.
“Our aim will be for there to be absolutely no waste from the transition from the old uniform to the new uniform.
“The Sisters have even expressed interest in making beeswax food wraps out of the girls’ summer dresses that are not in good enough condition to be worn as uniform items,” Kate said.
The opportunities from this incredible journey, stemming from an involved parent, are endless. The connection between Girton and SisterWorks is expected to bring rich experiences for both the school and the Sisters who will be involved in this wonderful initiative. The ties to the Elementary School in the Philippines also present wonderful opportunities for our students, with the exchange of culture and the gaining of perspective presenting an array of ways for students from both schools to grow.
Kate is now busily preparing Girton House for the arrival of six new sewing machines that have been donated to SisterWorksand work on re-purposing the Girton uniforms will commence in the coming weeks.
“I am so thrilled the way this whole initiative has come together and by the community groups that have come together through a common purpose.
“I feel that every step involved in the re-purposing of the Girton uniform items reflects the values that the school hopes to instil in our children, both ethically and from a sustainability point of view.
“I am sure that as we go, we will discover new ways to support SisterWorks. I think it will be a mutually beneficial relationship with many positive stories, and community connections.
“I am so looking forward to being a part of the SisterWorks group and am so grateful that the School is facilitating the relationship and providing space for their work,” Kate said.
The focus for uniform repurposing by SisterWorks will initially be on Junior School uniform items and a Secondary School that is affiliated with the Pangamihan Elementary School, will be the recipients of repurposed Senior School uniform items, later next year.
School shoes and runners that are in good condition are wanted by the uniform shop, along with all older style uniform items. Please ensure donated items are clean. Additional bins for donations will be placed around the Junior School and the Senior School as the uniform transition period comes to an end at the conclusion of the 2019 school year.
Students will be involved with the packaging of the rebranded uniform items for shipping to the Philippines and will work alongside members of the Bendigo Filipino community via Father Junray of St Kilian’s Church. Parent volunteers will be invited to be involved in the packing and preparation of uniform items for shipping.
The second-hand uniform shop is open Thursday 3.00 pm – 4.00 pm and Friday from 8.15 am until 8.45 am. If you would like to volunteer to help at the uniform shop or in some way support the repurposing of second-hand uniforms for the Pangamihan Elementary School, please email: Kate Mahony: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured below: The Sisters and members of SisterWorks outside Girton House and inspecting uniform items for re-purposing