Amongst the famed restaurants and boutiques of Smith Street, Fitzroy, sits a cafe that on first inspection looks like any other. The Cutting Room is inconspicuous enough, with its black and white chequered tiles, the occasional magazine or newspaper littered here and there and smiling faces from behind the counter.
Listen closely enough however, and through the eclectic mix of music, the quick little beat of sewing machines can be heard. Step through the large doorway to the left of the cafe, and find a place of extraordinary creativity and opportunity.
This place is called The Social Studio, an enterprise that started up to help young Australians who come from refugee or migrant backgrounds. In a space where they can work on and showcase their designs, they can pursue their dreams in fashion.
From the timber feature wall of the studio, hangs the creations of students of The Social Studio. Oversized t-shirts drape neatly from the hangers and asymmetrical dresses tease passersby, all with the not for profit’s logo stitched into the back of the neck.
When he is not working on his own label, Munsala “Cedric” Kadile can be found toiling away in the studio, creating the garments that adorn the walls.
Designer, model, and budding filmographer Cedric first got in touch with the studio in 2012 after immigrating to Melbourne from Brittany, France.
“The whole organisation is really about giving a pathway for young refugees and people from the local community - that’s pretty much the calling of The Social Studio,” he says.
“It was pretty random to be honest with you,” he says of his initial relationship with the studio.
“I came to Australia four years ago and one of my flatmates, because I studied fashion back home was like ‘Hey man I know this place, you should go check it out,’ and I was like ‘Yeah, why not?’”
Four years later and surrounded by up and coming designers at the studio, Cedric says that there are “too many success stories to tell.”
“Every day you meet great people and hear great stories. It’s always amazing to hear them and to hear what they’ve been through, and then see how they’re now evolving. So there are just so many people, it’s incredible. And that’s what makes it such a special place too. Every day something new is happening or you’re meeting someone. It’s a beautiful space”.
“Basically one of the things I love to do besides starting new clothes from scratch is actually customs. This is something I have been doing since before I even started sewing.”
The fashion industry is already oversaturated and there are so many designers, so many labels. So I take clothes that people don’t want anymore, clothes that might be a bit boring, and try to work on it and have some fun - kind of like giving a second life to a garment.”
"In doing this, it is kind of slowing down the fashion industry: we are not just producing for the sake of it, we are trying to be ethical by using something old to make it something else."
A teacher of fashion and textiles at RMIT’s College of Design and Social Context, Suzan Dlouhy is a supporter of the studio, having produced some of her own designs there under her label, SZN.
Suzan started her relationship in the studio in January 2015 as a maternity leave fill in, but has since stayed on in a clothing production teaching capacity. She also stocks her label in the retail section of the studio.
“The studio has been a great place for exposure and networking. People come to the studio from all different industries because they like the product, people and philosophy,” she says.
“I’ve had my garments included in photoshoots, met musicians, been interviewed as a teacher and been involved in contributing to the annual Block Party amongst other events. As a designer it is great to have your work acknowledged alongside such a great organisation, and to have the opportunity to interact with industry professionals who provided unique and diverse perspectives, both from the staff and students”.
One of the main goals of the studio is to integrate social good with beautiful designs.
“The studio provides designers with an example of and access to a manufacturing business, information on the fashion industry and potentially a place to stock their product.
“Both the product and process of operating the studio is an example of the possibility for a business to be modelled on socially ethical and responsibly practices - the idea that local production and design is valuable and possible”.