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No Fabric Left Behind: How This Melbourne Fashion Collective Created A New Zero-Waste (And Very Cool

WORDS BY COURTNEY KRUK

PHOTOGRAPHY BY THE SOCIAL STUDIO BY BENJAMIN THOMPSON


Fashion is all about visibility. We love and aesthetically appreciate what we can see: someone in a cool outfit, the looks being modelled down a runway, a bright top on a retail rack. But Melbourne collective The Social Studio recently reminded us that there’s a lot of beauty to be found behind the scenes.

Founded in 2009, The Social Studio is a not-for-profit enterprise that works with Melbourne’s refugee and new migrant communities, embracing upcycled fashion as a vehicle for social change. Over the past decade, it has saved more than 20 tonnes of fabric and textile waste from landfill, a process that has also provided more than 780 youth from migrant and refugee backgrounds with practical education and employment opportunities.

Along with its school and production studio, The Social Studio has a retail store in Collingwood Yards. This space further supports the brand’s social mission by promoting and celebrating diversity in fashion, design and the arts. “Our strategy with retail, both in the store and online, is to support creatives from black, indigenous and culturally diverse backgrounds,” The Social Studio’s CEO, Dewi Cooke, says.

The hybrid educator, retailer and production house is clearly capable of executing a social and environmental strategy, which is why we weren’t surprised to see its name on the PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival bill. Never one to underdeliver, the studio has collaborated with MFF this year to debut an entire ready-to-wear, zero-waste collection.

Minimising waste has long been at the heart of The Social Studio’s operations. As production manager Tara Wingate explains, every collection the studio releases relies on donations of deadstock or end-of-roll fabrics, often from local designers. This was also the case for the zero-waste MFF collab, only closer attention was paid to how every inch of fabric could be used.

“The main starting point for us is to look at the width of the fabrics that we were given and then create a zero-waste pattern,” Wingate explains. “Because everything is so dependent on the donations…we have to be quite dynamic in our thinking and approach to the aesthetic outcome as well.”

When most designers cut a shape from a piece of fabric, the leftover scraps are just thrown away. But this wasn’t going to fly for a studio with plans to make a collection with no waste. For its latest, totally zero-waste collection it didn’t even let the smallest scraps slip by. Instead, fabric that would normally be discarded was repurposed for binding finishes or incorporated into the threads.

This kind of technical garment-making chat goes over most people’s heads. But the key takeaway is that The Social Studio team asked questions about waste and then worked together to answer them with practical innovations. Not to mention doing all of this while training and providing work opportunities for marginalised groups.

Cooke says the brand’s environmental and social commitments go hand in hand. “[Building] strong communities and a strong support network is part of our vision of sustainability,” she says. “Sustainability has a few different meanings within our organisation, beyond just the material or the reality of textile waste.”

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