“We always try to help people,” says retailer Katie-Lee Muller. “We’ve always been very community-orientated in this business from day one.”
That community spirit has been a pillar of hope since a firestorm threatened NSW coastal community Moruya in the first week of January.
Like many of their neighbours, Katie-Lee, husband Drew and their children (Austin, 18 months, and Prior, 3) were forced to abandon their home, as bushfires encroached their picturesque town.
Having seen so many people, including her own grandparents, lose their homes, Katie-Lee was determined to do something tangible to help. “I’ve always been raised to be compassionate and to help others,” she says.
As the owner of Aussie Embroidery & Workwear, Katie-Lee decided the best way to help was to give away boots, shirts and protective gear to anyone who needed them. “At the moment we’re getting around six people coming in every day,” she says. “They can take anything up to $250. I never question anyone’s story. I take everyone on face value.”
Many of those who come into the shop lost all of their possessions in the bushfires and are in desperate need for high-quality workwear so that they can begin clearing blocks littered with blackened trees and building debris.
“A lot of people are in limbo. They’ve lost their homes and don’t know how to move forward,” she says. “That’s what my grandparents are going through now. They don’t know what the next step is – to rebuild, buy a new house or hold off?”
Although Katie-Lee’s workwear initiative is being supported by many of her suppliers and a few members of the public, the financial burden is largely falling on her own shoulders.
“It’s so hard because I’ll have to cut off the service if I can’t get the funds I need,” she says. “I can’t afford to carry the outlay on myself. I’ve raised $3000 (via GoFundMe) so far but I know it’s hard because so people have already given money elsewhere to help victims of the bushfires.”
Despite juggling the needs of a young family, supporting grandparents grieving for the loss of their home and trying to run her small business, Katie-Lee is determined to keep giving away workwear for as long as she can.
“Early on, I wrote a pitch to all of my suppliers and many of them have come on board, with free product or money," she says.
“Whenever someone comes in here for help, I post their picture on social media. I want my supporters to know that they are helping real people in need.”
In addition to providing work clothes free of charge, Aussie Embroidery & Workwear has also become a place of sanctuary for those still traumatised by the recent bushfires. “The other day I had three families in the shop for an hour," says Katie-Lee. "They had all lost their houses. They spent the time sharing photos and experiences. It was quite healing for them.”