Space2b celebration day

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By Madeleine Grummet


We all have stories to tell – stories to entertain, stories of the everyday and dark stories we bury deep that don’t often see the light.

But there are some stories that when heard, capture you, change you indelibly and compel you to make a difference. This was the case for Janine Lawrie, fashion designer and founder of Space2b – a dynamic social enterprise making a very big difference to the lives of newly arrived migrants and refugees in inner Melbourne.

“Space2b started at my kitchen table over cups of steaming tea. I was looking for a tailor for my business, and a friend who worked on the Red Cross Tracing Program introduced me to a recently arrived Somalian refugee called Abdi – a talented tailor who was in dire need of work.

“Sitting in my kitchen talking the ins and outs of tailoring, Abdi slowly began to tell me his torrid story – about how he’d spent his youth in a camp in Kenya, how he’d lost most of his family in war, and then had somehow escaped and finally made the treacherous journey to safety in Australia to be re-united with the few surviving members of his family. He had suffered enormously and survived much, and you could see the toll it had taken on him, but he said to me that day: ‘When I am more settled, my dream is to set up my own tailor shop’.”

For Lawrie, that was the genesis of Space2b – an art and design based social enterprise that has transformed the lives of all involved by providing a business model that enables recently arrived migrants and refugees to rebuild their lives, careers and dreams working alongside established Australian designers and makers.

It’s a simple idea built on establishing community, fostering connections and creating opportunities. Ultimately, it’s about cultivating the finding of purpose – providing a forum where people can come together to exchange skills, share stories, and start something they can call their own.

“Space2b recognises that many newly arrived people have enormous talents, skills and creativity and are eager to work to support their families,” says Lawrie. “But it is often a lack of English, a lack of connection and little work experience in Australian society that holds them back. To speak English means you are able to connect and be part of the community. To work and support your family gives you a sense of fulfilment and pride. And by working you are making a meaningful contribution to and become embedded in that society.”

Since launching in the City Of Port Phillip in 2014, Space2b has been making very big waves. This year has seen a successful popup retail store representing 50 local artists and migrant designers, eight exhibitions including ‘Voiceless Journeys’, The Hopeful Dancer by Iranian Artist Leila Ashtiani and ‘New Beginnings’ with Melbourne Artists For Asylum Seekers, speaking events with human rights activist Julian Burnside plus skill-sharing workshops with local schools and community groups, design markets and more. Space2b’s next pop-up venture will launch on October 21 at 143 Chapel St, St Kilda and will run for three months.

Lawrie’s partner in Space2b is Somalian refugee Mariam Issa – author, activist, corporate speaker, mother of five, and founder of RAW (Resilient Aspiring Women) – a thriving, Melbourne-based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the fostering of community, culture and cuisine.

Together, Issa and Lawrie have built an incredible village around them and have a huge staff of passionate volunteers. Latest initiatives include the 100 Stripey Monkeys – ‘Buy A Monkey, Build A Life’ Campaign where community groups and partner businesses are working together to make 100 soft toys from Sacred Heart Mission recycled clothing, with proceeds of sales going toward the Space2b workplace mentoring and training program and every fifth monkey gifted to a child in detention. Workshops are held regularly at Vegilicious, 118 Carlisle Street, St Kilda

The 100 Stripey Monkeys Campaign will be launched at St Kilda’s Vegilicious and 4Dverse gallery on November 28, as part of Space2b’s Celebration Day for Acceptance and Respect.

Celebration Day will launch Iranian artists Leila Ashtiani’s new exhibition, delicious Vegilicious international cuisine, 4Dverse Masai beading, basket weaving, henna art and dancing workshops, and a mini market with handcrafted Space2b jewellery, clothing, giftware and stripey monkeys for sale! For further details or if you would like to be involved contact

For Lawrie, Celebration Day will be a day jam-packed with fantastic community events, but also a huge celebration of the amazing community that has become Space2b.

“Space2b is and always will be about people first. When people come together at events like this it’s a reminder that we are all the same, we all have the same basic human needs of wanting to be safe, wanting to belong, and wanting to exist as part of something and not outside of it. It’s as simple as that.”


Space2b Christmas Pop-Up Store: 143 Chapel St, St Kilda
Celebration Day: November 28 @ Vegilicious and 4Dverse Gallery

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