Group of women in colourful clothesDewi is the CEO of the Social Studio, a not-for-profit social enterprise that provides opportunities to celebrate and elevate the talents of Melbourne’s new migrant and refugee communities through education and training in the field of clothing production and creative industries.

Now based at Collingwood Yards, the grassroots organisation has evolved over its 13-year history, providing hundreds of migrants and refugees with pathways across different creative fields and removing barriers to participation. In addition to an RMIT-accredited training program, the Social Studio also runs an Ethical Clothing Australia-accredited manufacturing studio, a socially conscious retail outlet and a community space —connecting Melbourne’s refugee and new migrant communities with various creative and community projects.

Dewi feels lucky to have come on board. Becoming the CEO of the Social Studio has meant finding a place where all her interests converged. Having worked as a journalist for 15 years, reporting on welfare, demography and immigration, and then as the Deputy Arts Editor at The Age, the Social Studio has provided Dewi with the perfect platform where the two spheres of her brain that focused on the human experience and beautiful things could finally come together.”

A reflection of interests, passions and desire to give back

When she was first approached to be a judge for the 2021 awards, Dewi assumed it would be in fashion. But she was pleasantly surprised with the Service Design portfolio, which is a perfect fit for her background and the ethos behind the Social Studio.

It’s a wonderful category and an opportunity to be thoughtful about design infrastructure that many people may not see. In certain ways it mirrors the work we do at the Social Studio — intangible but very important in contributing to the way people interact with the world around them in a positive way,” commented Dewi.

When people think about design they usually think about products, beautiful things that we can touch, see and feel. But with service design and human-centred design disciplines, designers influence how we walk through the world and how we interact with it,” she added.

A silver lining to the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Studio saw an opportunity to help solve some of the challenges of global supply chain insecurity, especially when it came to the local shortage of facemasks. The collective was able to step into that space and start making urgently needed products which they sold at cost price to ensure accessibility.

It was a pivotal moment for the Social Studio, allowing it to employ additional staff from target communities and more importantly, raise awareness of its strong in-house manufacturing capabilities — a turning point for the organisation’s profile and ability to deliver.

Bringing together people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

Most of the students who enrol in the Social Studio’s RMIT-accredited Certificate 3 in Clothing Production course come through word of mouth. The two-year program is open to refugees and migrants with a healthcare card and the right to study in Australia. To engage with a broader cross section of Victoria’s First Peoples, culturally diverse and asylum seeker communities, the Studio also welcomes others to join its Friday social sewing classes or participate in different ways such as selling their work through its retail store.

The Social Studio’s students are predominantly women who come from 10+ countries (mainly the African continent) and speak multiple languages. Despite the challenges they have faced in their migration and resettlement journey, the students have enormous capability. The Social Studio strives to empower them to reach their potential, encouraging them to have a goal and work towards it.

The beauty of our studio is that it is a space of belonging and social connections. It’s also a safe space to ask for help if they need it, set goals and design what their future looks like.”

Upwards of 70% of the organisation’s team members also come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, including Somalia, Iraq, Turkey, Siberia, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The role of good design in achieving positive social outcomes

According to Dewi, good design can be simple in its beauty or complex in its thought and process – there is no one specific definition. Good design should make people’s lives easier. It may not necessarily be visually beautiful, but it should help us move forward in our understanding of ourselves as humans or how we physically move though the world.

The mark of a good service designer is their ability to figure out a way to change a complex problem into something that is easy to digest. Service design has the ability bring about positive social change and influence various aspects of contemporary society.”

No matter the project, the common thread to exceptional service design is the human experience, drilling down to what we can do as individuals or as a collective to learn from the

process and how it can improve the way we interact with each other. At its very core, service design is how we experience our universe.”

The Victorian Premier’s Design Awards: acknowledgement, recognition and celebration

There is an army of service designers and service delivery professionals in Victoria, tackling major social and structural problems. They often go unrecognised, but the impact of their work is profound.”

Having a forum to celebrate that work and achievement and casting a spotlight on what goes into the process is really important. It’s an opportunity for people to learn and understand the significance of designing and delivering services that are truly responsive to users’ needs.”

Dewi is looking forward to being part of the 2022 Service Design judging team. Based on her experience with the 2021 awards, she is particularly excited to see the breadth of diversity in the entries and the different ways service design is interpreted across various genres.

The 2022 Victorian Premier’s Design Award winners will be announced as part of Melbourne Design Week in March 2023.