The Social Studio

Over the last five years as Collingwood gentrified into a haven of conservative bohemians with whitened teeth for mirrors, The Social Studio encouraged refugees and the underprivileged to embrace their creative side. Hidden amongst the ironically named Paris end of Smith Street, this quaint little workshop is a meeting place to exchange ideas and learn about the ethical side of fashion. Here I was on the 86 tram on Gertrude Street, in the heart of winter, Melbourne’s winter; drizzle and hailstones, fleeting sunshine and poorly dressed undercover ticket inspectors wearing KISS baseball caps. I was on my way to meet Fozia Akalo, one of the hardworking employees of The Social Studio and co-founder of SHIO, an underground fashion label, which combines contemporary urban-streetwear and Japanese aesthetics, essentially from the “Kawaii” sub-culture.

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The Cutting Table Café

“We launched SHIO in the spring of 2013, where we sold out of our first collection,” says Fozia, taking a stick of raw sugar in between her fingers and pouring it into her cup of coffee.

After writing her PhD on ‘how design can be used for social change’ founder of The Social Studio Dr. Grace McQuilten created a design studio, café, and drop in centre for refugees to feel part of the community. Operating as a non-profit incorporated association, which is managed by a Board of Management elected by the membership, the Social Studio shot onto the international stage when Oprah Winfrey made a sojourn down to its Collingwood premises. Making the short list for a “a giving back to the community’ competition initiated by Oprah and a $100,000 first prize provided by American Express, the Social Studio came painstakingly close, with eventual winners The Trans Help Foundation claiming the prize.

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While Collingwood slowly transformed into a giant pop-up foodie suburb, the Social Studio centred on developing the individuals skill-set rather than embracing the ideals of an Atlas Shrugged world. Through her mentoring of refugees, Fozia is like a rock and roll icon, being warmly interrupted, hugged and kissed during our interview at The Cutting Room café, an extension of The Social Studio.

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“I genuinely enjoy teaching refugees the trade and what can be achieved through fashion. Once I finished my degree, I wanted to give back to the community, having been so fortunate myself, so I looked to the Social Studio for employment,” Fozia says.

The Social Studio


Fozia is referring to the fact that she feels lucky to be born in Melbourne. During the late 1980’s as Ethiopia was deep in the heart of civil war, the Akalo’s headed for Australia to start a new life. Settling into a housing commission unit in the inner west suburb of Footscray, Fozia’s parents worked factory jobs like most migrants to pay the bills. Throughout her teenage years Fozia was fascinated with the blank canvas that fashion provided. She packed her duffel bag with sewing scissors, trimming shears, rotary cutters, a French curved ruler, cottons and pencils, and of course a sunny disposition. She breezed through the Bachelor of Design course at RMIT. This was where she met Hannah Fry, on the steps of the former Melbourne Gaol, an east entrance to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. The two developed an instant rapport through their love of the Japanese and street hip-hop aesthetic, a juxtaposition of sorts, hence SHIO was born. When translated from Japanese to English SHIO means SALT or if you use kanji, (a system of Japanese writing using Chinese characters, used primarily for content words) it can also mean salt water, tide, current and opportunity.


SHIO @ The Social Studio 

SHIO’s fashion line can be found on the racks on the Social Studio, with their signature look, ‘streetcentric borough individualism,’ appealing to men and women from the ages of 18 – 30. For a modest $50 – $200 you can purchase a loose fitting unisex tied-dyed t-shirt to compliment your black polka dot maxi-dress. If you do not reside in Australia, C-lab stocks SHIO online, where you can buy all their eclectic range of skirts, jackets, pants, slacks, hoodies, and upper and lower body un-bespoke garments. All SHIO’s fabrics are locally procured from Melbourne outlets, second-hand stores, and as a sustainability measure, they recycle any excess materials.

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SHIO threads 

“For our new collection we are using poly power sheer mesh, usually worn by soccer players to let the skin breathe,” Fozia says, pointing to the semi-transparent cloth resting on the table.

As international titans H&M, Zara, Uniqlo and Top Shop settle into the Australian fashion landscape like the first fleet, smaller fashion designers are struggling to make a ripple in what is seen as big business verse the local fashion industry. This was evident when Alice Euphemia, a pioneering Melbourne fashion outlet that supported local and national designers disbanded after twenty-two years.

“The big fashion outlets don’t really interest me, we just need to learn to coexist,” Fozia remarks, taking the salt and peppershakers in her hands and pairing them on the edge of the table.

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Out of a Brunswick studio the size of a love-heart trinket box is where you will find Hannah and Fozia developing their next SHIO collection, Puri Pug. The hours are long and mean and the word ‘penalty rates’ is usually rewarded with a cup of English breakfast tea and a ginger bread biscuit. The new clothing range Puri Pug is paying homage to the breed of dog, but more to the dogged nature of believing in a “labor of love.” You will find Fozia and Hannah working the SHIO stall at the Emerging Designer Market at The Hub, Swanston Street on August 31st and September 7th as part of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week.

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Fozia & Hannah testing for show

SHIO are throwing a party in celebration of their latest collection PURI PUG.

Come and join them at Watermelon Sundaes on August 17 for an exclusive sneak peek of their spring/summer 14 capsule collection. SHIO will also be part of the Emerging Designer market for Melbourne Spring Fashion Week.


Tickets are also on sale for The Social Studio’s Spring Gala, which is their biggest fundraising event this calendar year.

The Social Studio

This article first appeared on the Daily Review on Crikey, you can read here Crikey

M.D. Cooke

Photos of The Social Studio:

Wilari Tedjosiswoyo

Photos of Menasik D’wany by Kate Mussett

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