• Space2b hopes to crowd-fund its seed-funding, allowing it to operate on its on its own. (SBS news)
Space2b is an open social design store, established to empower refugee and new arrival communities to create their own work, and become financially independent.
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SBS Small Business Secrets
16 Apr - 5:35 PM  UPDATED 17 Apr - 3:23 PM

The social enterprise has gone from two pop-up stores to a permanent shop and gallery. Now, the St Kilda-based business hopes to crowdfund its seed-funding so that it can be allowed to operate on its own.

Janine Lawrie, a textile and fashion designer, says Space2b was founded from a desire to produce more homegrown items.

"I’ve made clothes and I’m a designer in design fabric and I wanted to get someone local, or a new migrant so I could make them locally," Laurie told SBS.

Janine Laurie, founder of Space2b.

But it was a sentence her friend, Mariam Issa, once said that formed the catalyst the business start-up.

"I was telling Mariam about my idea one day and she just said 'I'm sick of you Westerners always thinking about the hows and whats - just do it'," Laurie recalls.

Mariam Issa, now co-founder of Space2b, came to Australia as a Somali refugee 15 years ago. She says the business is a great help to those who have recently arrived in Australia.

"In a nutshell, it [Space2b] is about love, trust, and connection in the communities," Issa told SBS. 

Mariam Issa with a customer at Space2b.

This social enterprise prides itself on unearthing rare talent from new and emerging communities. Within a month of opening, around 45 designers were using Space2b to sell their own items - all new or migrant designers.

"For our first pop-up store, we had more local artists and around 20 percent refugees and new migrant designers. Now though, I would say we have fifty-fifty," Laurie told SBS.

Issa says Space2b provides an invaluable opportunity for people recently arrived Australians to feel like a part of a community again.

"There were a lot of women, who came with incredible talents but were a little bit lacking in self-confidence. So if we could give them their creativity back, and allow them to express themselves, instead of being in that space of suppression, then that was something that would really work, for all of us," Issa told SBS.

A former migrant who is now selling her own designs at Space2b.

The model is based on a tier system, where sales are split 50/50 with established designers, 40/60 with established designers who volunteer, and migrant designers in training receive 80 per cent to the store's 20 per cent.

All store profits go back to the store, contributing to expanding the training programs and the products sold. A mentoring program also exists, partnering a refugee with a local designer, to improve their skills.

While designers from across the globe sell their products at Spaceb2 - including many former refugees - Laurie says she wants people to buy the items because they value quality, local designers.

"Our aim is to be a place you want to come to because of the products. We want the products to sell it more than the cause, we don’t want the people to buy for pity," Laurie told SBS.

Space2b is currently in the process of creating a 'business hub' to help migrants start their own businesses.  

Laurie and Issa hope that their program will empower refugees to be independent and integrate well into the Australian community.

“We have created this with love and joy and it just shines in everything that we do now," Issa told SBS.

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