It’s almost 10 years since we first opened our doors. We’ve been reflecting on that wonderful decade by chatting with our wider community of customers and suppliers about how far we’ve come.
One thing we’ve realised is that with such a diverse community, we take a lot of things for granted. First and foremost is the fact that many of those in our community don’t quite realise the wide-ranging impact we’re having.
While many are aware of our positive effect on the environment via the products we sell and services we offer, not so many are aware of our impact on peoples’ lives.
So, we decided to have a chat with two shop workers from very different backgrounds. One is a long-standing supported worker who’s been working here for 14 years. The other is a female entrepreneur with children who’s achieved her dream of starting a brand and selling it in-store.
Be Real – Be Inclusive
Back in 2010 when we were preparing to build and launch LoveLuvo, we took on a core value of being “real”. We’d like to think that we’re down to earth and grounded in the real world – which is a great marketing soundbite – but what does success in the real world actually look like?
Inclusivity is the simple answer.
Our environmental impact is clearly demonstrated by the fact that we’ve saved 2,345 bottles from landfill by refilling 4,690 litres of home and body products in the past year alone. Inclusivity, however, is harder to define.
How do we figure out whether hiring somebody with barriers to entering the workplace really means something – if they have a horrible experience and quit after a couple of days, weeks or months, did we really achieve anything? Perhaps we did, perhaps not.
So, we decided to let our team tell their own stories. Many of you know Utako and Sue, but were you aware of the challenges they’ve overcome to bring their beautiful energy into our little sanctuary?
Staff Story: Utako
It might not be immediately apparent from her softly spoken exterior, but Utako is a veteran entrepreneur with shrewd insights into the health and beauty world.
“I’m from Japan but I’ve been living in Australia almost half my life. I studied Beauty Therapy, worked in retail, met an Aussie guy, got married and bought a house in West Footscray. I used to work at Aesop maybe 10 years ago, then I did my own Beauty Therapy Business for a few years, but I had to stop when it was too much work on top of two kids.
“I always loved LoveLuvo after discovering it when it opened around 2011. I loved coming to Seddon and Yarraville and kept coming back, but I didn’t known about the social impact concept until I started working here. When my little kids got a bit bigger, I was so happy to get a job here at LoveLuvo!”
In many ways, Utako’s journey is a microcosm of the intersectional barriers which face so many people in our community – the challenges she’s faced as a female entrepreneur with children are far from unique, and just one aspect of a society in which equity is still not a reality for most. That’s just one of the reasons why we feel so lucky to benefit from Utako’s presence working here with us in the LoveLuvo store. Have her experiences at LuveLuvo have helped her develop as an entrepreneur?
“I think so. All the little local support, the other workers – everyone’s so open. Getting feedback, seeing how all different Australian brands are presented, it helped me to learn a lot. Very nice to be coming out here into the shop, rather than just doing it online, to see other products, meet customers, figure out what there’s a demand for from the community. Hearing what people are looking for in products.”
These insights are what helped Utako develop her own brand: Uroom Beauty.
“My products are made from Damask Rose Water, sustainably farmed in North-East Victoria at Samaria Farm. I’ve also actually become distributor for their products on my online shop! I started in 2018 after I did an olive oil soap class in the Mornington Peninsula. I’ve always been into aromatherapy. Being a Beauty Therapist is actually a very demanding job to do, physically and emotionally, plus I really love making things, so I realised that soap making connected it all together.
“It was something I could maybe do for the future, since I was so busy with my babies. Then the kids growing took up most of my time for the past five years, so I found that I needed to find myself. My soap business allowed me to do that, and although it’s only been two years, Jess [LoveLuvo’s Store Manager] has been very supportive and open to helping.”
Staff Story: Sue
Well spoken, articulate, calm and reflective, Sue is very empathic – a real people person. Her journey is entirely different to that of Utako, and yet LoveLuvo is the common factor in how they’ve successfully surmounted their own unique challenges. Another common factor is how enthusiastic they are about our wonderful Store Manager.
“I love working with Jess, she’s the best Manageress we’ve had” begins Sue, full of her characteristic gusto. “She has a great sense of humour, she’s really good with us, the three disability workers, because we’re all different.
“My parents are from Edinburgh, immigrated in 1965, I was born a year later in Nov 1966, I’m 54 now. Did you ever see the show, Upper Middle Class Bogan? That’s me – I’m a bogan when I’m in Werribee, but when I’m in Seddon it’s a little bit upper class, so I’ve to put on me airs and graces!”
Sue’s been working with us since 2007, initially at Cleanable (our sister project) before LoveLuvo. It all began when she did a course offering by WCIG (Westgate Community Initiatives Group, our parent organisation).
“I was going to a day program in Werribee for mentally ill people. Luckily for me, a guy turned up and introduced me to WCIG. I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.”
After they offered her training and a job, Sue quickly became a valued member of the team.
“I cleaned for years at Footscray Dental Clinic, it used to be a WW2 repatriation hospital, so there’s a few ghosts there! My first introduction to cleaning was with the office assistant there, he was so particular, so I learned the hard way what to clean – he wanted everything cleaned. That was a good introduction, you couldn’t cut corners. I did the initial cleaning course which was good, through WCIG, then they offered us a Retail Course. After I did modules 1, 2 and 3 they started putting me in the shop.”
After working with Cleanable for almost 5 years, Sue’s been at LoveLuvo for almost 10 years. Throughout that time, her responsibilities have increased alongside her skillset.
“My cleaning background is great for the housekeeping of the shop, as I do know what to do, and also the retail side I’m pretty good at, serving customers. Otherwise I’m often out the back cleaning, or pricing products for the shop, making sure they’re not damaged. All these things we learned in our retail course. So, I have a background in that aswell, which is all coming out now. At the start of the month we receive all the products, unpack them, look for damage, they go straight out to the shop. Middle of the month we might have some good sales, then end of the month we do a stocktake, what we’ve sold for the month. Then it starts all over again, each month.”
These skills were learned through the WCIG course, and all of them have a real world application – as evidence by Sue’s decade of continuous employment. Did she have other jobs before?
“I did, but they weren’t successful.”
What’s the difference?
“I think not understanding my mental illness. People who aren’t used to working with mentally ill people can take it the wrong way. Working in an office, for example, I always wanted to go out for a break because I get anxious. They told me off for that and a lot of other things. My contract wasn’t renewed. A few things like that have happened.
“This is the longest longterm job I’ve ever had – way longest. So I’m very proud of myself. I’ve had one six week holiday, paid holiday for long service leave when I’d been working for 10 years. Apparently in another two or three years I can have another one. But I don’t like being away from work too long, I get bored.”
Even a brief chat with Sue quickly demonstrates her strong work ethic – and yet, her complex personal circumstances mean that she was excluded from the workforce for most of her life. She credits LoveLuvo and store manager Jess in particular for her ongoing success.
“If I say to Jess can I go out for a break she’ll say yeah, because she knows it’s five minutes, she knows it’ll make me feel better and I’m contributing to the shop. If I have to take time off because my car broke down, in normal employment they’d look at you and say well don’t bother coming back. Here, they say sure, you can fix your car. Or if you’re sick, or mentally ill, not having a good week, well you can take some time off. Sure, it might be without pay, but we’re allowed that time, whereas regular employment would not allow such flexibility. Although they are changing a bit, normal employers – becoming a bit better for people with maternal leave or pregnancy. I’d like to see a workplace like this, where if something was wrong with your child you could leave and take time off and you’re not going to lose your job.”
Sue has had her own particular set of challenges, having been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in her early-to-mid 20s.
“I’d always had a feeling I was a bit different, but it manifested itself with a manic episode where I was sweating and anxious, and I didn’t realise I was sick. They took me into hospital and I spent a month there just getting on the medication, it settled me right down. Then they released me, I wasn’t in long. Subsequently I was back another couple of times. Twice in the back of a divvy! Just sitting there, looking out the window.”
“I needed at least 5-to-10 years to just be myself. I was on disability but it’s all worked out the way it should’ve, I think, looking back. I wouldn’t have been ready to work to start with, I had to settle into my illness. I was doing craft and things like that, painting and stuff, it was more of a rehabilitation. But when I presented myself I felt right, I’m ready, I’m going to see if I can do cleaning. Once I got that job, I was on me way. Maybe I was a late bloomer, I didn’t start until I was 40 and now I’m 54. I just needed that maturity, I don’t think I would’ve coped otherwise.
“Even when I’ve time off, I’m not socialising, I don’t have a role in society. Even socialising, as soon as I got a job, with my family I felt a different connection – socialising, going out to parties – I do something now. Anything I say might mean something more, because before I just stayed at home watching TV, not contributing to society. It’s a confidence thing – even if you’ve got a job as a cleaner, it’s confidence. You’re holding down a job. You’re not just a mentally ill person.”
Aside from the opportunities it’s brought into her life, Sue has a lot of good things to say about LoveLuvo.
“I like that it’s a social enterprise which has employees with disabilities. Also, the products are sustainable and very relevant to what’s happening in the world. We’re reusing plastics, we’ve got all these destressing products – I’d call it a Destress Sustainable Shop! All of us feel the same way – I’ve worked with all the girls and we all say ‘I love it here, I want to stay here’. Some social enterprises, you’re only allowed work for a certain amount of time, but this has broken all the rules and we’ve worked here, well, me for 14 years.
“I just think that WCIG with our CEO Ron, started a great company. It’s truly the best place I’ve ever worked. If it sets an example, that Ron started 15 years ago, it’s a good example and I think that because we’ve got such a good work ethic that we’ve remained where others have failed, other social enterprises. Since 2007. It’s to his credit, Ron. I think they’ve hired people with the right vision and the right set of rules, and that’s really helped make it a success.”
To finish up, we asked Sue what she’d say if she met someone now who was like her back when she was 23 and feeling hopeless about the future.
“I’d say there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Just stick with what you’re good at, what you love.”
A huge thanks to Utako and Sue for taking the time to have a chat with us for this article – and a huge thanks to all of our customers for helping us to achieve our goals.