Clothes shop that employs the formerly homeless is making fashion greener

One second-hand clothes store near Brighton is going above and beyond to make its community – and the world – a better, cleaner and greener place to live.

Outfit not only looks stunning, being located in an old 1930s chapel, but its beauty is more than just skin deep.

The shop is part of Emmaus Brighton – an organisation that supports formerly homeless individuals (known as ‘companions’ on site) by offering them a place to live and work on a six-acre plot in Portslade.

Outfit is one of the six different social enterprises that Emmaus Brighton runs on this community site – along with a cafe, a greenhouse project, a second-hand superstore, bedroom store and satellite shop.

The team at the clothing store is made up of companions and full-time staff employed by Emmaus.

Together they work hard to sort and curate second-hand treasures the community have offered up, and then do their best to display the pieces amongst the incredible chapel setting.

Customers will come across all sorts of pre-loved goodies, too, with everything Primark to Gucci.

‘Anything that you would find in one of the best London second-hand boutiques, you can find here,’ says Outfit’s retail manager Eva Russo.

‘The curation is based on our own knowledge, fashion and trends – also knowing our Brighton and Hove community.

‘There is a particular style that we know, so we try and select items we know our customers will like – as they might not follow a trend in particular.’

Reusing and recycling is very much at the core of Emmaus’ ethos – and this is heavily reflected in the store.

Business manager Joel Lewis tells ‘Part of the DNA for Outfit is not just selling wonderful second-hand clothing, it’s about what we can do in the bigger, broader picture – based around reuse, recycling, repurposing and also creativity.

‘We want to get people in here who can show you how make cushions out of old jumpers, or bedspreads out of old jeans, or whatever it might be.

‘We want to get other creatives around Brighton and Hove, or the UK, to come and share their skills, inspiration and knowledge – those who want to be a part of that change.’

Not only are all the items donated, but there are stations for people to repurpose and upcycle their own garments. 

Eva adds: ‘We have a special corner for haberdashery, which is of high interest for the creative people in Brighton – where they can purchase fabric, wool and all the items for creating new garments. So, in a way, it’s an invitation for people to get creative.’

Any items that aren’t chosen to go on display at Outfit are handed over to a recycling company to be repurposed – to ensure things are kept as sustainable as possible.

Companions are also heavily involved with all areas of day-to-day shop life.

Eva says: ‘There’s lots of sorting, curation and a large amount of displaying.

‘It’s an opportunity for companions to get new skills – in terms of a toolkit they can create for future opportunities. 

‘All in all, we work at different levels, we train companions and we learn a lot from them as they come in with their own knowledge – so it’s a space to be creative with them.’

Jack, a companion who works at Outfit and lives on site at Emmaus Brighton, says his favourite part of the job is meeting customers.

He says: ‘In the morning we tidy the shop. Throughout the day we engage with customers and work on the till.

‘There is a lot of sorting of clothes and sometimes we go online to research and price designer clothes.

‘It helps to give my days structure and purpose.’

Outfit opened back in June 2019 after staff put their heads together on how they could expand their offering to the Portslade community and increase the organisation’s income.

Joel adds: ‘Three years ago, we were inundated with clothing and conversations around fast fashion, reuse and all those things were becoming more widely talked about. So it was a natural progression to separate the way we sold our clothes.

‘Rather than just having a couple of rails in our shop, we thought let’s make it a separate social enterprise, as we can display an awful lot more of clothing and make more sales – and do it in a really creative, trendy and quirky way.’

Understandably, the past 18 months have been tough for Emmaus Brighton.

Not only did Outfit lose a year’s worth of income, but many companions struggled with lockdown.

Joel adds: ‘It’s been challenging for some of our companions – as some have higher support needs than others – but the community and the companions have really pulled together and supported each other. The peer support should never be underestimated.’

Thankfully, government grants helped pull the organisation through and now they are looking ahead to bigger and brighter things.

Events due to run next year include a summer fair and a Waste-Not festival, set in the community’s ‘Secret Garden’ – a plot of land accessed via a tunnel that goes under a road.

Joel adds the plan is to eventually open another Outfit branch in Sussex – in the hope that clothes can be stored and accessed for customer requests, to help keep things as eco-friendly as possible.

He adds: ‘If we open another site, what doesn’t sell here we just take out and move it onto the next one, we can still extend that potential and garment life even further.’

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