Before 2009, newly arrived refugees keen to make headway in the fashion business did not have many options. Then along came The Social Studio. For five years, this much-loved Collingwood enterprise has served as an important training ground for people with refugee backgrounds, and has become a part of Melbourne’s creative fabric.
Its store on Smith Street, filled with innovative designs made by graduates of its program, is testament to its success as a business. Now, the team is celebrating the five-year mark with an exhibition at the Immigration Museum and an accompanying book.
Filled with glossy colour portraits and interviews, the 222-page book compiles stories of people from different backgrounds who have either trained at the studio or been involved in its making.
“I think when it first started, it was this crazy, wonderful idea,” says the book’s editor, Grace McQuilten. “It really took a leap of faith in the early days for people to get on board. But it evolved into the true vision – an artistic hub and supportive community space providing opportunities for talented young people.”
The studio’s exhibition at the Immigration Museum showcases a smiling collection of photos of The Social Studio’s designers and makers, as well as the chefs and staff from The Cutting Table, The Social Studio’s hospitality enterprise next door.
As well as the training, over the past five years The Social Studio has helped to combat negative stigmas surrounding refugee communities, and has received support from the fashion and the arts communities locally. But McQuilten admits there’s still a long way to go. “Particularly in this political context, it continues to be quite challenging for these communities,” she says. “There’s this need for energy in the arts and there’s probably never been a greater need than at this moment.”