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Site Visit - The Social Studio

Another great site visit today with The Social Studio! Grace and Susan showed us around the space, after which we had a delicious lunch in The Cutting Room, the attached cafe.

The Social Studio has a very flexible program delivering skills development for entrepreneurial young people from immigrant and refugee backgrounds. They operate as a social enterprise and are already generating over 50% of their income from services such as their cafe – yet they still manage to provide high level certified training in clothing production and design (in partnership with RMIT School of Fashion) 
and in hospitality (in partnership with William Angliss) for free, as well as paid traineeships in retail and hospitality, and training in business planning and other related topics. To back up the training and ensure their students are supported through their education they offer support services including financial counselling, legal advice, driving lessons, English language development and plenty more.

The public face of The Social Studio is largely through the on-site shop and the fashion offered for sale there. Here we’re looking down the shop towards the “business end” where there’s plenty of cutting and stitching happening, and beyond that the digital print studio.

Grace told us that she actually varnished the floor of the shop and painted the walls herself! It’s proof of the dedication and passion of the staff that they seem to really regard The Social Studio as a second home.

We spent some time oohing and aahing over the great items for sale, nearly all of which are one-offs. Susan explained that virtually all the fabric used is donated – some from individuals, some from warehouses and some even from high-end designers. This is not just a cost saving, but also helps to lessen TSS’s environmental footprint. This gorgeous design was created by one of TSS’s past students who has gone on to have her own successful design business, as well as opening up a Sudanese women’s training group in Dandenong.

We then took a look at the digital print studio. TSS is the only place in Melbourne offering digital textile printing as a service, which is expected to further increase the organisation’s income as well as providing jobs and service locally.

Upstairs is the training facility where students learn their trade. For a small space they certainly get a lot done.

The Social Studio takes students who are referred to them by other agencies, but some apply because they know a student going through the program. Grace and Susan explained that for many young people who have dropped out of formal schooling, who may have low levels of English or have had difficult experiences with schools and authorities in the past, it takes a lot of trust to participate in a new venture. Personal connections really help.

Students who go through the program end up with a respected qualification, and the added support of TSS’ other services as and when they need them. The program is flexible to be accommodating of the needs and life events which students may experience. Many of the students who go through the program are highly skilled but have little understanding of how industry works, and this is also where the extra support helps.

After the tour, we convened for lunch at The Cutting Board. Don’t be fooled by this photo – it was taken after the lunch crowds had gone, but when we first walked in, the place was packed! Plenty of people also dropped in to look at the items for sale while we were there, too. The cafe is decorated with colourful and creative screen-printing samples done by the students as part of their RMIT course.

While we ate, Grace showed us some pictures from a successful exhibition the students had done as part of the Melbourne Now event earlier this week. It included a fashion show in which some of the models were designers wearing their own creations – a great take on fashion!

Most of all, The Social Studio felt like a warm, welcoming place, and Grace explained that they endeavour to keep it a safe space for their students, many of whom  have come from challenging backgrounds and traumatic experiences. Through TSS and its programs these young people are able to bring out their true entrepreneurial spirit, develop their skills, showcase their talents and become the successful people they have the potential to be.

Many thanks to Grace, Susan and the rest of the team at TSS for letting us come and visit!


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