be. collective are taking our obsession with identity offline
The Melbourne based platform are defining community for a new generation.
Over the past few decades, physical community spaces have been disappearing from our cities and neighbourhoods. Traditional gathering spots where people could meet and connect have been replaced by digital worlds; and while we're not ones to speak badly of the internet, there is no doubt that something vital has been lost along the way.
This was the on the mind of Grace Dlabik when she established Melbourne's BE. collective. Grace — her friends call her GiDi — imagined a multi platform project that would allow diverse groups of young creatives to come together, collaborate, find mentorship and explore the idea of cultural authenticity and identity. They're motivations we're familiar with online, but GiDi recognised that by encouraging like minded strangers to commune together we could birth a different kind of creative experience.
Today the project runs workshops, talks, a fashion label and a magazine — that all share a commitment to welcoming and nurturing all who want to join. We spoke to GiDi about her amazing personal journey to the creation of BE. and her mission to change the way we view our own home towns.
BE. is so many things at once, can we start with you defining it as you see it?
BE. is a holding space for brilliant minds and free thinking. It's an all-inclusive creative community space designed to inspire and support authenticity.
How do you set out to do that?
So there's BE.CREATE, which is hands on workshops taught by mentors, BE.CURIOUS, which is relevant and mind-expanding talks on sexuality, identity, culture, all sorts of stuff that is relevant to young people. And BE.COLLAB, which is the collaborative clothing label. It all feeds into itself like an ecosystem. There's a socially active part of the clothing label, when someone invests in a clothing piece, a portion of that goes into supporting the other aspects of BE. It's a cross-pollinating ecosystem where every aspect of it is self-feeding.
What do you see as the project's ultimate intention?
The intention is to hold the space with no judgement, full nurturing, all inclusive, and everyone is welcome to explore, learn and evolve through sharing. I don't want it to feel like it's mine I want it to feel like it's ours, to feel like it belongs to the community. The magazine BE.CULTURE, is also a tangible space that people can share and reflect on all of the ideas being explored.
BE. feels like a crossroad between fashion and activism, what drew you to explore those worlds together?
Well, at twenty-three I had my son. I was expecting a normal pregnancy, but he had the umbilical cord wrapped six times around his neck with a true knot. He's now fourteen-years old and wheelchair bound. Coming from the fashion industry and this really glamorous life and arriving at that point, I had a full change of life. I was in survival mode and I felt isolated in terms of what I was going through. I didn't really have a community around me at that time and community is so important. After a number of years of caring for my son, I realised I needed to do something for myself. You know, I'm such a creative being and I had nowhere to transfer that energy. I started my own business in fashion styling and creative direction, but I became pretty jaded with the industry after having a profoundly deep experience of life and what it was like to survive throughout my darkest and most challenging moments. That's when I realised I needed to use my platform to make a change.
How is BE. changing the way people engage with culture?
We are providing tangible examples of the ways people can impact each other's lives by broadening their perspectives. We want our participants to be able to speak with others rather than be spoken to, build friendships, and bring back their power to help their peers.
The ideas of authenticity and owning your cultural identity come up again and again, what does that personally mean to you?
My mum, who is Papua New Guinean, gave me my best present ever and it was a tape of I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston and there was a picture of her on the cover with her hair wild and a massive smile and I was instantly like, oh my god, me. My father's side is Austrian-Hungarian and my mother's side is Papa New Guinean. I really identify with Papa New Guinean and seeing someone that looked like me on the cover of that tape, a black woman out there in the world who's made it, that was kind of my Kickstarter.
What's next for BE. what are you looking forward to?
The next theme for BE. CURIOUS is the talk and the magazine on self-love. I'm working on that now, which has been really inspiring!
Text and photography Shannon May Powell