Fitzroy/Collingwood seems to be the hotbed of social enterprise businesses in Melbourne (see my review of restaurant Charcoal Lane), and in late 2009 another one opened around the corner from me – The Social Studio.
The Social Studio is a non-profit fashion studio space staffed by approximately 20 young members of Melbourne’s refugee community and overseen by the lovely artist Grace McQuilten. I think the value and purpose of The Social Studio is best articulated on their website:
The main barriers faced by newly arrived members of the community are unemployment, isolation and difficulties accessing education and training. The Social Studio addresses these problems in four ways: creating jobs; providing education; encouraging community engagement and social inclusion.
In the studio Grace and her team teach the basics of design, sewing, cutting, pattern-making and fitting using excess fabrics gathered from local industry. The studies are accredited towards TAFE certificate training in clothing production and design, plus the students’ one-off products – from dresses to tops to bags to jewellery – are on sale at the front of the colourful store (notice the eco-friendly name-stamped cardboard coathangers) and online via Etsy.
The Social Studio also offers regular events and workshops. On Saturdays they hold a Re-Mixed workshop where for only $30 you can learn to rework an existing garment from 10am-1pm. On Wednesday evenings they conduct talks called The Quick Unpick ($10 for first talk, $5 thereafter, includes a drink) where you can hear a leading designer discuss their work, ideas and background.
On your visit also take the time to check out the cosy cafe at the back of the studio that serves a pared down breakfast/lunch menu and Social Roasting Company‘s fair trade coffee, the product of another social enterprise business focusing on the long-term unemployed.
On Grace’s recommendation I tried the French toast with fruit and honey, a modest description for a generous pile of soft eggy Turkish bread (I’ve never had French toast done using Turkish bread before – delicious!), peach slices and dried apricots, all drizzled with honey. It was sweet and filling and a bargain for $8.
Having volunteered in refugee organisations before and being exposed to some harrowing stories, I strongly believe that any business that encourages refugees in Australia (particularly young people) to learn, participate, engage, dream and work should be supported. Remember that all the revenue raised from the sale of the clothing, workshops, events and cafe go back into funding the primary project – so get yourself and your friends down to the The Social Studio soon.