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A Melbourne Shop is Changing the Lives of People with Barriers to Employment



From young mum entrepreneurs to older women diagnosed with serious mental illness, Melbourne based Social Enterprise LoveLuvo is blazing a trail through a win/win/win business model that puts women, customers, and the environment on an equal footing.

Whilst diversity and inclusion have increasingly made headlines in recent times, LoveLuvo in Seddon (Vic) are about to celebrate a decade since opening their doors in July 2011. Their success comes from providing high-quality locally produced products, which are sustainable and eco-friendly, while providing inclusive employment – you can learn more about that side of things here, as told by Jacinta Manivong (the brand’s Marketing Manager). 

Core to their success, like the brand itself, is a tale of diversity and inclusion. As a certified social enterpriseertified by Social Traders, the shop supports a range of people with barriers to employment, whether that be women finding their way back into the workforce once their kids have started school, or older women in the community who are successfully transcending the stigma of mental illness.
 

From a Mental Health Challenge into Longterm Employment

Sue is LoveLuvo’s longest serving employee – well spoken, articulate, calm, and reflective, Sue is very empathic – a real people person. She also suffers from paranoid-schizophrenia.

Sue’s journey into the workforce began in 2005, initially at Cleanable (LoveLuvo’s sister project) when she embarked on a course offered by WCIG (Westgate Community Initiatives Group Ltd – LoveLuvo & Cleanable’s 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 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.”

Sue’s unique set of challenges are related to a paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis in her early-to-mid 20s.

“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. 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.”

After working with Cleanable for almost 5 years, Sue’s now been at LoveLuvo for close to a decade. Throughout that time, her responsibilities have increased alongside her skillset.

“All these things we learned in our retail course. So, I have a background in that as well, which is all coming out now.”

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. While she did have other jobs before, they didn’t go well. She attributes this to a lack of understanding around her 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.

“This is the longest long-term job I’ve ever had – way longest. So, I’m very proud of myself. 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. 

“I just think that WCIG with our CEO Ron Miers started a great company. It’s truly the best place I’ve ever worked. I think that because we’ve got such a good work ethic that we’ve remained where others have failed, other social enterprises. 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.” 

The Young Mum Turned Entrepreneur

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. Her journey is entirely different to that of Sue, and yet LoveLuvo is the common factor in how they’ve successfully surmounted their unique challenges. 

“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 know 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 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. 

She credits LoveLuvo with having helped her to develop her skills as an entrepreneur.

“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.

“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.”

To Enlighten, Educate, Inform, Engage and Improve

LoveLuvo’s mission is focused on  the lives of those people who work and shop at the store. By providing employment and retail training for people living with a barriers to employment, the Seddon-based shop has cultivated a memorable, feel-good retail experience, with a range of environmentally-friendly cleaning products, body products and  other products which help support likeminded social enterprises.

This unique and distinctive product offering alongside a fair-trade approach and empathy toward people living with mental illness are reflected by three core values: 
 

  • REAL: We are down-to-earth and demonstrate integrity in everything we do and say 
  • ENVIRONMENT: Visible in the products we sell and the services we offer  
  • INCLUSION: Apparent in the way we include people with mental illness and the long term unemployed


LoveLuvo is a retail social enterprise based in Seddon, Victoria who stock eco-friendly, locally sourced and fair-trade home and body products. Certified by Social Traders, LoveLuvo was created by Westgate Community Initiatives Group Ltd (WCIG) in 2011 to provide sustainable, paid employment opportunities for people who experience barriers to finding a job, giving people an opportunity to build skills and confidence in a supportive work environment. This commitment to the community stems from LoveLuvo’s central ethos: The good you do comes back to you. 

Print-ready high res image files available to view and download here: https://bit.ly/LoveLuvo​​​​​​

If you would like to arrange an interview with anyone from LoveLuvo and the wider team, just ask! If you would like to receive a sample pack of LoveLuvo’s recently rebranded in-house range for review or for a co-promotion, giveaway or competition, please do get in touch and we’ll have one in the post to you ASAP.

Cormac Sheehan
Purpose Communications
Email: cormac@purposecommunications.com.au
Phone: 0416 712 812