The Social Studio: the stuff of hope, dreams and refugee resilience

We inhabit a world where nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute as a consequence of conflict or persecution, according to the United Nations.

But you needn’t feel powerless.

You can make a difference in your own backyard.
A good place to start? Make a tax deductible donation to The Social Studio, a remarkable Melbourne-based venture (and fashion label) empowering people from refugee backgrounds.

The Social Studio is Daily Review’s 2018 charity partner. An energetic social enterprise based in inner-city Melbourne, it uses the platforms of fashion, design and clothing production to teach skills and empower people from refugee backgrounds.

Climb a wooden staircase, and you will find atop the shopping strip of Smith Street, Collingwood, an unusual fashion school where passionate teachers prepare students for TAFE qualifications and other learning pathways into further study and real jobs.

The Social Studio’s graduates now work for top Australian fashion labels in retail and bespoke clothing manufacture.

The story of Ali and his mother Tahereh is telling.

Ali was 12 years old when he fled with his family 10 years ago from Afghanistan. Struggling with his English language and confidence in a new community, he joined The Social Studio for work experience in year 10.

The organisation helped him get his first part-time job in retail, and continues to support him in his endeavours.

“I was new and The Social Studio was the first place to help me to link with the Australian community, ” says Ali. He graduates this year from an international relations degree at Monash University.

A model in hat shown at The Social Studio’s annual fashion show

In contrast to the opportunities he found in Australia, his mother grew up illiterate, having had no chance  to go to school at all in her village in rural Afghanistan. However, urged on by her son, in Melbourne she enrolled in a course in clothing production at The Social Studio and graduated with a formal qualification last year.

“We were all so happy for mum when she finished her course,” Ali says.

So far, more than 600 people have participated in the organisation’s empowering programs. The Social Studio partners with RMIT University so standards set are high.

“Quite apart from the practical programs we run, The Social Studio demonstrates how the fabric of Australia is enriched by its diversity. Our students have ties to countries ranging from Afghanistan to South Sudan and other African countries. They also come from Burma, Sril Lanka and Iran,” says founder Dr Grace McQuilten.

The Social Studio’s graduates now work for top Australian fashion labels in retail and bespoke clothing manufacture. Like Ali, not all the students stay in fashion, some have gone into banking and one student, from a South Sudanese background, recently commenced a PhD in medical science.

This is the stuff of hope, dreams and refugee resilience.

A riposte, indeed, to an unedifying national debate about asylumseekers and talkback bromides from Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, that so-called “African gang violence” has made people in Melbourne scared to dine out at night.



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