By Nina-Kate Scarff 

    Since 2005, Westgate Community Initiative Group (WCIG) has curated a social identity that challenges the parameters of contemporary marketplaces through its first social enterprise, Cleanable, and later retail edition, LoveLuvo, where I now sit with Peter Collins, Social Enterprise Group Manager for WCIG and Jessica Sims, LoveLuvo manager. 

    LoveLuvo and its wider branches occupy an important and necessary space in the business ecosystem: every $1 million government dollars in turnover, social enterprise creates 9 jobs, a stark contrast to the mining and construction industries where one job produces $1 million dollars in turnover. 

    Wandering through the LoveLuvo retail space ignites a childhood-like tendency: I want to touch, smell and hold everything within reach. It’s a place where you don’t have to justify your shopping basket, it’s both chock-full of essentials and supporting a cause more significant than you or I might understand. Like Cleanable, LoveLuvo provides meaningful, paid employment, work experience and vocational training opportunities for people who experience barriers to work. LoveLuvo currently gives meaningful employment to three staff members with barriers to employment and champions others through ongoing training, professional development and personal growth. Here, Jess says, ‘it’s about creating the supports that enable people to come to work every day, even when they may not be able to in non-open employment’. 

    So when COVID struck, it wasn’t just back to basics; it was back to the drawing board. Even though the pandemic was a functionary obstacle and LoveLuvo had to pivot to click and collect and think outside the box to keep employment hours clocking, Jess is quick to point out this patch was a testament to the Seddon community and their willingness to champion LoveLuvo. ‘Our loyal customers in Seddon made sure they contacted us and were very supportive, and when they did return, it was in droves.’ 

    What draws Peter and Jess to LoveLuvo and WCIG is watching the progress and growth of those who have found employment here reveal themselves before their eyes. In this sense, they don’t need to search for meaning in figures and sales. They see the shift in confidence and knowledge in the people who find employment here, something which one cannot find in impact reports or monthly figures. ‘That goes for all social enterprises’, Peter reminds me, ‘it’s not unique to WCIG, though they are a recipient of those benefits’. ‘Our goal is to address and remove those barriers and provide the support required to work through the obstacles that the community might perceive they have and that they might see in themselves’. When asked about some of the barriers facing LoveLuvo and WCIG’s other enterprise components, Peter’s analogy encapsulated their main challenge better than I will be able to: “A social enterprise cafe needs to rely on a great product not just a mission. Consumers will buy one cup of coffee if it is for a good cause. However to keep them coming back you need to also sell a great cup of coffee. We have to work hard to ensure the product is as good as the cause.”

    LoveLuvo possesses the same ambition as similar retail spaces that take to the body care glossary. Still, their products must respond competitively to an extensive checklist before making it to the shelf: sustainable products, supporting other social enterprises, donating to charities, small, local businesses or women-run businesses, to name a few. ‘Sustainability has become a trend’, Jess points out, ‘so debunking the greenwash and doing the research for the customer’ has become a staple practice on the LoveLuvo shop floor. In the last financial year, LoveLuvo contributed over $113,000 to local businesses, $55,000 to women-run companies and $48,000 to other social enterprises by sourcing from local suppliers. ‘We’ve already made that choice for you, so when you walk into the shop, everything here has ticked boxes’. What called to me was the simplicity of this practice and how seamlessly these layers had been woven into a trifecta retail experience. LoveLuvo is learning from the community, using these products and the stories behind them to educate customers who walk away more socially conscious. 

    Of course, this article cannot pin down the significance LoveLuvo holds, not just for the community but for the local, emerging brands comprising its catalogue and the lives it touches through education, training and employment. Something of its capacity for change and ability to shift the dialogue on what a functioning, thriving social enterprise looks like is apparent in its significance to the Seddon community. 

    174 Victoria Street
    (03) 9396 1822

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