Social Studios: 10 year retrospective panel

By Naomi Hatton

This piece was written as part of the Fashion Writing Program 2019

In honour of The Social Studio’s 10 years of sustainable design and ethical business practice, the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival hosted an inspiring and interactive panel discussion on the importance of fashion as a vehicle for social cohesion.

The Social Studio has made its mark on Melbourne’s cultural landscape as a dynamic social enterprise with environmentally sustainable design and virtuous conventions. This project engages the community as a fashion school, clothing label, retail shop, digital textile print studio, clothing manufacturer and community space – created from the style and skills of young people from migrant and refugee communities.

Held in the ever-cool Schoolhouse Studios, the illustrious five-person panel opened up dialogue between industry professionals as to the power of fashion, and its ever-expanding relationship between community, culture and ethics.



The Saturday session was moderated by Jewel Topsfield – award winning journalist for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Jewel was bold, engaging and spoke eloquently as she addressed the guests.

A beautiful show of diversity among speakers began with the introduction of Maroske Peech Director Elisa Keeler, Melbourne artist and refugee advocate Kate Durham, artist and stylist Kyah Parrott, Editor of i-D Magazine Mitch Parker, and stylist and creative director Karinda Mutabazi.

Topics of conversation began with the main focus - how fashion can be a vehicle for social cohesion – which then flowed into discourses surrounding inclusion, exposure to ideas, nourishment of culture, and contributing to a sustainable future.

Touching on points of cultural appropriation, Kate Durham and Karinda Mutabazi made knowledgeable and sensible points on where the line is drawn in terms of cultural respect in fashion, and the importance of respecting tradition and workers. Following incidents involving high power labels and fast fashion chains, the discussion explored the idea of what is acceptable, and what is considered appropriation and theft.



Kyah Parrott was intriguing with her assertive and powerful contributions on sustainability and accountability, noting that as the number one player in this global juggernaut that is the fashion industry, consumers also have a responsibility to be informed and selective. Talk turned to the global influence of fashion, as laws and religious regulations were discussed in relation to freedom and social inclusion.

It’s no secret the fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world, so naturally the spotlight was turned onto fast fashion, poor working conditions, and ethical considerations. All panellists had insightful points regarding the consumer choice and cohesion that sustainable efforts bring to a community. It was as if  we were all on a team, being given a much-needed pep-talk driven by the panellists, igniting our responsibilities in the way of fighting pollution and unsustainable practices.

Each member of the panel gave an incredible insight into their roles and beliefs on ethical considerations in the fashion industry. The calibre of knowledge and understanding was positively engaging for the audience, as attendees left feeling inspired by the future of fashion.

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