In conversation with Mariam Issa

Interview with Mariam Issa by Sarah Yusuf

Mariam Issa is not only a remarkable person and infectiously positive person but also a great mother of five. Despite her being my mother, I still didn’t really know much about her involvement with
space 2b and got the opportunity to really talk to her about it in an entirely unbiased way.

Mariam began Space2b with Janine; Space2b is one of the most profound projects she has been a part of. I sat down with her and went into depth about why this was.

SARAH: Hi, i’m Sarah Yusuf and here with me today is Mariam Issa, Space2B’s Ambassador. So, How did you get involved with Space2b?

MARIAM: Well, I started the space2b with Janine, It was all her idea, she came to me and asked if I could be a part of this dream she had.

SARAH: Awesome, So how has space 2b impacted your journey?

MARIAM: … I think it gives me a sense of doing something that I am proud of and …. Also it’s given me an insight into the art and design industry. While I love beautiful clothes I’ve never really had a chance to witness the behind the scenes creative process or the wonderful people who make them, so being a part of the creative process of art and design has added to my value of life and beauty.

SARAH: Yeah that’s cool, so where do you see Space 2b in 5 years?

MARIAM: Well, I see The Space2b in 5 years to be …. established, independent and sustainable and by independent I mean financially, so independent from grants because we seek grants, we seek other peoples help, so most of the work we do and most of the people working are volunteer based, and that sort of … handicaps us. The way I see the shop going and the direction its heading, I see it being a very sustainable organisation where good, beautiful works of art are sold.

SARAH: Okay that’s great, so where do you and Janine find designers and artists for the store?

MARIAM: Well, we will work with migrant and refugee women; um … we find them through networks of referral, word of mouth and the mainstream artists and designers are people Janine usually knows since she is a designer herself. The designs and art is Janine’s territory, she incorporates anything that she might like from a designer perspective but with recruiting … we just do it together through people we know and our own separate contacts.

SARAH: Having already had so much on your plate with different projects, what made Space2b special/different? What was your vision for it?

MARIAM: My vision for it to begin was … I loved the idea of connecting people, especially women, I mean Space2b is not just for women but we work predominantly with women and my connection with the idea is the fact that I love entrepreneurship and I love the fact that this is an autonomy where women can be given a chance, to be able to make their own things and make money from that. Also that part of training, to train the women to achieve and grow in confidence, being able to use the shop as a place where they can feel a part of the community despite it sometimes being a strange new place for some of them. I think that comes from my own background and my own integration story, I feel like had I had a space like Space2b I would have progressed much faster.

The story of Space2b with Janine

The Space2b Carlisle St shop closed down temporarily this week, but the spirit of Space2b is still around and a lot of work continues in the background!
I went to Janine to find out where it all started.

JESSICA: Where did the idea of Space2b come from?
JANINE: I always kind of had that idea, and then a friend of mine, Jane, who worked for Tracing with the Red Cross, introduced me to Abdi from Somalia.  He was one of the first families she helped to re-unite. One day as we were sitting in my kitchen having a cup of tea he said to me “my dream when I settle is to establish myself as a tailor.” It was that one little sentence that inspired Space2b. I thought, this is just one person out of  so many with creative skills, who just need the opportunity, the connections, to live their dream.

JESSICA: How did Mariam get involved?
JANINE: I met Mariam in her RAW garden, and I used to talk about Space2b all the time. Each time it would inspire her more and more. She would always say “you Westerners, you’re always worried about the who and the where and the how and the why,  you never do anything! Just do it!” And so I decided to ‘just do it’! That day, I walked down the road and there was a sign saying “pop-up shop short term rent” and I thought ‘this is fated, what’s the worst that could happen’?  The next day Mariam came to my house and told me that she wanted to be my partner!”
So we did it together!   How ironic that she is also from Somalia!

JESSICA: How did it start with all the designers?
JANINE: As a designer myself  I used to sell my clothing, Jiniku in markets and was part of  the designer community.  The idea had been in my head for years, and I began to see the connection between the two.  Many independent designers want to make their range in Australia in small quantities.  Many new migrants have the skills to do this and also want to run their own creative business.  I believe that “Without connections, you are nobody” which is so true isn’t it? You come here as a migrant, and nobody knows you. Nobody really cares who you are. You don’t mean anything to anyone. You’re defined by your friends, your family, your work.  We need connections to thrive.

JESSICA: Are you happy with how Space2b has developed so far?
JANINE: I must say, if I thought about the hard work, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I cannot believe the amount of people that have come on board. It’s just taken off. It’s no longer about Mariam and myself – it’s its own identity. That’s been just amazing. At the very beginning the shop was such a mess. As Mariam said, if I had thought about everything, there’s no way I’d have done it! But everyone came and just gave their time. It’s quite amazing. We get wonderful comments from so many people. What I hadn’t realised was the potential, not just for new migrants and refugees, but for everyone involved. Work experience, practising English, meeting other people. It’s multilayered.

JESSICA: What do you see for the future of Space2b?
JANINE: With time we want to partner with the RAW garden so that there will be a garden, and a little café. With the addition of the food and garden, people can come and get the whole experience, and bring their kids.   I see Space2b developing as lots of small businesses, the shop, gallery, creative workshops, events, small manufacturing and designer studios.  In the background we will be working together with new migrants and refugee, creating, sharing and learning.  It is a two-way process. Some will develop their own businesses in jewellery or fashion for example, others who would like more support may make products for the Space2b brand, some will become employed in the various areas of Space2b. For example, we’ll have someone running the gallery and a few running the shop. We will start to develop a small manufacturing businesses producing products for established Australian designers, like sewing cushion covers, screen printing or making a small run of shirts.. So we will be building mini-manufacturing, locally. The potential is huge and exciting!

JESSICA: What’s the plan for the time off?
JANINE: It is not really ‘time off’.  We will continue to run our mentoring program and develop products so that when we find the new place we are ready to go. We’ll continue with that, and run some English conversation classes in the background. A business needs a couple of years to become established, so we will be looking for seed funding. That’s the plan.


If anyone knows of a suitable space for our shop or knows anyone that can help, please contact us!

Getting to Know Mitra!

Last week I had the chance to interview the wonderful Mitra Ashtiani for my first Space2b volunteer interview. When I first met Mitra at her sister Leila’s art exhibition, she struck me as a warm person, who loved to communicate and had an interesting story to tell. She was the obvious choice for my first interview!

Mitra volunteering at the shop

Mitra volunteering at Space2b

In Tehran, Mitra was a working science graduate, and invested a lot of faith and money into seeking asylum in Australia. Her hopes for when she reached Australia were to return to university to study nursing and pursue her dream of working with children.

Mitra came to Australia in 2013 by boat, without her family. She describes this experience as terrible. She was then placed in detention centres – on Christmas Island for one month, Darwin for four months, and Broadmeadows for three months. During her time in the detention centres, Mitra did anything she could to keep her mind occupied. She helped in the library, went to the gym and participated in boot camp. Mitra also kept herself busy learning English, and although she doesn’t believe it, her conversation skills are excellent for someone who has only been learning for two years!

My wish is to improve my English. It’s very important to me.

Now Mitra volunteers at Monash Health, where she helps non-native English speakers with translation, filling out forms, and finding what they need. We are also lucky enough to have Mitra volunteering with us at Space2b every Friday! Mitra was introduced to Space2b through Melbourne Artists for Asylum Seekers (MAFA). I learned for the first time during our interview that Mitra is also a talented artist, and had her art displayed in our New Beginnings exhibition of paintings by asylum seekers. Mitra wanted to become a Space2b retail trainee so that she could gain new experiences and improve her English. Her English skills have come a long way since her first day here at Space2b.

11164219_10152862715464021_1205769816_n

New Beginnings Exhibition featuring 3 of Mitra’s paintings

Mitra says one of her favourite things about working at Space2b is learning about the different designers and is always excited to see what they come up with. She also enjoys the multicultural environment. As an artist herself, hopefully Mitra can eventually sell some cards or even paintings at the shop. We love having Mitra at Space2b!

Designer Profile: Maoko Carroll

Our first Space2b designer profile is Maoko Carroll of Jamanapo, whose beautiful bags bring a touch of vintage Japan to the store. Maoko’s designs incorporate colourful Japanese silks and denim, often including a single button or contrastive hand-stitching that adds character to each one off creation.

bagclose

Maoko was first exposed to this craft while growing up in Japan, watching her mother sew and observing the different fabrics. However, back then, Maoko was less interested in the traditional Japanese materials than she was in Western-style dressmaking. Now, Maoko weaves together the east and west, traditional with modern, to produce unique bags and satchels, lovingly handmade in Melbourne.

She lives in Kangaroo Ground and is constantly inspired by her natural surroundings. However, the fabrics Maoko uses connect her with Japan. Each bag is a one-off creation, made with materials such as indigo cotton from kimono and fabric from workers’ aprons.

pouch

In Japan, it is believed that each baby is born with a red thread on their little finger, and that their partner in life is born with the other end of the thread. Maoko beautifully ties this Japanese tradition to her products by sewing a button onto each bag using a red thread. This represents her hope of a destined partnership between a bag and its owner.

button

Maoko has been a great supporter of Space2b. She loves the shop’s atmosphere, and told us after her visit to Space2b, that you feel welcomed when you come in, and come out feeling happy. One of our first window displays featured the Jamanapo bags and the story behind them. Maoko was very impressed by how we transformed the empty window into a space for storytelling. It is very satisfying for one of our designers to commend all the hard work that goes into Space2b and to remind us that we are doing  “something worthwhile and very special.”

11117370_10152827075439021_547790003_n

Maoko’s products have been some of our best-selling items since the start of Space2b, and a new range of Jamanapo bags are currently in store.

Meet the Artist Leila Ashtiani

Leila Ashtiani’s art exhibition has been one of the most publicised and talked-about events we have had since the inception of Space2b. It’s no wonder – her story is exactly what this social enterprise is all about. We always tell new customers about the purpose of the store, that “the profits go to migrants and refugees who are interested in art and design.” Leila’s exhibition is the perfect example of the product of all the hard work put in by the people behind Space2b.

Leila's art

Leila’s art on the Space2b gallery wall

On Sunday the 15th of March, we held a ‘Meet the Artist’ event, so that people who were interested in Leila’s work could come in and ask her questions. Since the exhibition’s opening, we have had large numbers of people visiting because they had read about her story in The Age. Her story has attracted people from all over Melbourne to come into Space2b and view her beautiful artwork.

Meet the Artist event

Meet the Artist event

Being so comfortable speaking Persian in her old Tehran art gallery, the challenge for Leila at this event was to speak about her art in English. However, the same enthusiasm for her art came across whenever she was asked a question. The attendees included people who had seen Leila’s art at previous exhibitions, as well as those who had heard about her work for the first time. Everyone was impressed not only by the art, but by Leila’s own lovely nature.

One visitor, Jane, described the artwork as “breathtaking”, and an intriguing depiction of woman in all her forms. As a woman, Leila’s work is inspiring because of its central theme of freedom. She was not able to show many of these works in Iran, so we are so glad Space2b could be a part of sharing Leila’s art with the community.

Leila’s paintings will be on show and for sale at the Space2b gallery until March 30th.

Hello from Jessica

Before I start writing about all the exciting things happening at Space2b, I thought I’d introduce myself. My name is Jessica and I’ve been volunteering at Space2b since September last year. I’m usually in the shop on Sundays, and also take photos for the Space2b Instagram and Facebook page. Now I will also be writing a blog for the Space2b website, which will feature news about the shop and events, as well as some volunteer interviews. Here’s a photo of me modelling at the Space2b Fashion Show – an event we had here in November.

Photo by Ian Main, Bayside Photography

Photo by Ian Main, Bayside Photography

I found Space2b at a time when I was looking for as many interesting volunteering opportunities as I could find, and while I liked the concept, I could never have expected to feel so strongly about what we do here. It only took me a few minutes in the shop to feel the welcoming vibe of the space, and it only took a couple of days of volunteering to realise that I’d stumbled upon something really special.

The volunteers here have often met the women behind the products, which makes it even more compelling for us to share their stories with customers. This is one of my favourite things about volunteering at Space2b. Each interesting anecdote I learn about a product adds to the story of Space2b – something that I have become incredibly excited about sharing. The next blog post will be on one of Space2b’s most inspiring recent stories – Iranian refugee artist Leila Ashtiani’s recent event and exhibition.

Follow us on Instagram @space2b_design to see photos of events and new products!