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'From corporate partner to foundation leader' Gill Whelan

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

Gill Whelan joins Purposely to share her story as the inaugural Head of fashion label DECJUBA's Charitable Foundation.

Gill swapped corporate sales for a career focused on purpose, combining skills learnt from business and experience with the charity ‘St Kilda Mums’ in her new role, leading a corporate foundation.

DECJUBA is a private company and was bought by former Cotton On founder Tania Austin in 2008. A women and girls apparel brand with 140 stores across Australia and New Zealand it has gone from strength to strength. Tania had envisaged setting up a foundation when the time was right. Formally established in 2021, the motivation to start a foundation was partly driven to provide some structure and strategy to their existing charitable giving. Gill Whelan joined as inaugural General Manager of the foundation in July 2022.

DECJUBA had been a supporter of the charity St Kilda Mums, and this is where Tania got to know Gill. Gill impressed as someone with knowledge and passion for the charity sector as well as a long-standing love for fashion. Leaving St Kilda Mums was not an easy decision for Gill, she had been with them for over a decade and had grown close to their clients, staff, and supporters.

Established in 2009, St Kilda Mums, based in Melbourne Australia, raise funds, and redistribute pre-loved items to children to ensure a safe start to life. Instead of being discarded, prams, cots, clothes, and essential items are donated to St Kilda Mums to then be rehomed to families in need.

Gill’s gateway into the charity sector was through volunteering, she had spent a ‘fun’ five years living in New York with her family and had arrived back in Melbourne Australia at a ‘bit of a loose end’ but determined to re-engage with her community and make use of the spare time she had. She started volunteering at St Kilda Mums, performing several roles over the first few years but ended up falling in love with the organisation. Inspired by the founder and CEO Jessica Macpherson (a former guest of Purposely), ‘she was an incredibly inspiring and ambitious woman, she can draw people in and take them on a journey. it was a fantastic organisation to be involved with and ultimately provided me with opportunities in terms of my career.’

Gill outlines the DECJUBA Foundation’s ambitious goal to positively impact 25 million lives by 2025.

‘It's wonderful to have that big ambition, we're really committed to transforming lives and helping those in need and ultimately creating real sustainable change.’

DECJUBA, like other brands trading in the ‘fast fashion category’ is under pressure to lessen their impact on the environment and ensure sustainable practices in everything they do, from sourcing materials to the manufacturing process, and how they deal with waste. There is also pressure on brands to do the right thing by their employees and suppliers to ensure there is no exploitation. This pressure is coming from customers who want to buy sustainable fashion items and who will not buy from a brand if they exploit workers. Employees are also only willing to work for companies who are focused on positive world impact. Gill is very aware of this, and she talks about their approach to sustainability.

‘We don't shy away from the fact that we're a fast fashion brand and that has environmental impact. We're sort of fronting up to that as much as we can and trying to go even further than I guess is expected of us and the foundation goes hand in hand with that’

Gill is looking forward to growing and scaling the work of the foundation and ensuring it has a positive and lasting difference on people’s lives as well as the environment. ‘at the moment it is just me although I have loads of support from all parts of the business to help the foundation’

We are excited to see where Gill will take the foundation and how she will use her experience to help shape the direction of the foundation as well as the company.

You can find Gill on Instagram @gill_at_work


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