Global Observer

Social change through design

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MELBOURNE -- A Melbourne social enterprise uses fashion and design to create jobs for young refugees.

MELBOURNE -- It’s been another busy year for the Social Studio, a not-for-profit organization that harnesses the skills of talented young people from refugee backgrounds to help them develop confidence and skills in fashion, design and hospitality.

The Social Studio was formed in 2009 by a group of local designers and professionals who wanted a vehicle for social change. With close community consultation, they developed a business plan, secured a shop front in Melbourne's inner-north, and created training programs for the city's young refugees.

“The Social Studio was essentially in response to the lack of vocational opportunities and recruitment practices that favor confident English-speaking people with local contacts, all of which is not typical of people who are new to Australia having had a refugee experience,” General Manager Trudy Hairs said.

Championing the values of community, education, sustainable design and ethical business practices, the Social Studio facilitates a range of projects that offer social support including legal counseling, tutoring, driving and formal training in clothing production, retail and hospitality.

Since 2009 more than 90 people have participated in programs at the Social Studio. Currently, the Studio provides training and employment opportunities for 30 refugees (around 60% female); most are African (76%), while others are either Middle Eastern (12%), Sri Lankan (8%) or Pacific Islanders (4%). Volunteers and staff are paid above the award (minimum) wage.

The garments created in the Social Studio, under the TSS (The Social Studio) label, are certified by Ethical Clothing Australia and are made using only reclaimed and up-cycled materials gathered from local industry.

All income generated through the Social Studio is invested in “creating social impact” – measured through education outcomes, employment outcomes, environmental benefits and social inclusion.

This year saw a number of milestones for the studio, including a new cafe, the launch of a digital design practice and a fashion runway debut at Melbourne Spring Fashion Week.

The studio’s hospitality spin-off, the Cutting Table, which opened in April 2011, has enabled the Social Studio to expand the jobs and training on offer; eight people work shifts each fortnight and 10 people are enrolled in hospitality training courses.

The studio was also successful in creating a new employment pathway partnership with retailer Nobody Jeans, creating 10 job placements.

Next year, the Social Studio hopes to expand their retail operations, wholesale their collection to other stores and actively promote their online store to a wider market.

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Lieu Thi Pham

Correspondent (Melbourne)

Lieu Thi Pham is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She has contributed to The Age, Associated Newspapers, Melbourne University Magazine, the Big Issue, Dazed and Confused, Indesign Group, Time Out, SOMA and Niche Media. She holds degrees from the University of Melbourne and RMIT University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure