the social studio is a pin up for sustainable slow fashion

Discover the Australian creative collective creating opportunities for talents in need.

by Erin McConchie
28 April 2015, 6:30am

Photography Wren Steiner

Since opening in 2009, Melbourne's The Social Studio has provided education and employment opportunities for talented young people who have experienced life as a refugee. With a vibrant, friendly shop front on Smith St, they make bold, high quality ethical and sustainable garments and production skills are learnt at their fashion school which operates in partnership with RMIT University. The Social Studio has collaborated with local artists and designers such as Ken Done, Linda Jackson, Alpha60 and Kuwaii and we like the idea that this positive retail model could become more wide-spread in the future. 

i-D chatted with three beautiful ladies involved in the Studio. Meet CEO Susan Yengi, General Manager Andrea Philippou Latino and Grace Dlabik of GiDi Creative, also the mastermind behind the images here of songstress Chela wearing some of the latest pieces. 

What is the main idea behind The Social Studio?
Susan: To create employment opportunities for people! The founders recognised that there were a lot of talented refugees who had come to Australia with years of experience working in the fashion industry through tailoring and design. They came here seeking employment but their qualifications weren't recognised in Australia. The fashion industry can be challenging to get into, so this was seen as a great opportunity to showcase the skills and talents of a lot of newly arrived refugees in fashion. Fashion is just one of those things that everyone can connect with, it's very universal.

Grace: We're also trying to break down the stigma that a lot of people regard it as a charity because it's a social enterprise. It has the refugee element to it and training facilities, but everything we sell is from graduate students who have accomplished accreditations. It's of the highest quality. We want to make this initiative something you can really engage with and support and recognise. We align ourselves with other great designers or artists in the community so we can extend outwards and really say 'hey, we're here, recognise all the great things we're doing and come and support us'!

Susan: It's all Australian made, it's made right here. You can see the work that we do, you can come into our shop and speak to the manufacturing department so you have that visibility and it creates that connection with people.

What is important about keeping fashion local?
Andrea: It's important for local designers to have a relationship with their manufacturers in terms of quality control. A lot of them want to create in this country but it's just too expensive. We want to bring it back and show the community that if we all start supporting local designers, it's going to translate into something really beautiful.

Grace: Sustainability is important, too. That's a big thing we do here.

Andrea: We reuse and reclaim fabrics from other manufacturers and other designers from end of season and we create products with that. It's not fast fashion.

Grace: We don't have seasons.

Susan: And the greatest thing from that is that you create employment opportunities for people locally.

How would you describe the space?
Grace: One of the students best described it when she said that it was a home away from home. That is so important. It creates a safe network, a nurturing space where everybody is considered. We're all working together to make this initiative thrive. There is no hierarchy.

What do you see for the future of The Social Studio?
Grace: That this particular space, what it holds and what it means and its importance, can also be applied to any other community around the world.

Andrea: We also have Twich in Dandenong and The Social Outfit, which is our sister organisation in Sydney.

Susan: They have both replicated our model and allowed us to expand that way, so I think we can keep expanding and reaching out to different communities. That's what we're all about.

Andrea: I've been here for two years and it amazes me the positive impact you can have on people and the small things and how they change a person's life. I'm thrilled we are able to do that to a number of people and I'd like to get the Melbourne people and beyond behind that.


Text Erin McConchie
Photography Wren Steiner
Styling Grace Dlabik from GiDi CREATIVE
Make-up Assistant Wanda Waller

fashion interview
the social studio