5 Questions: Social Studio & Matt Huynh
Matt Huynh is a visual artist and storyteller, raised in Western Sydney and now based in New York City.
His bold brush and ink paintings are informed by poetic Eastern sumi-e ink traditions and popular contemporary Western comic books. His animation, paintings and comics interrogate war, diaspora, refugees, asylum seekers and migrant communities.
Matt worked with The Social Outfit to develop the 'Dragons' print. The Social Outfit was founded by Jackie Ruddock, is an independently-accredited, ethical trading social enterprise that provides employment and training in the fashion industry to people from refugee and new migrant communities in clothing production, retail, design and marketing.
No. 1 —
Tell us about the Social Enterprise model behind The Social Outfit, described as ‘a fashion label with a difference.’
Jackie: We believe that by tapping into the creativity of refugee communities it can lead to empowerment and social inclusion. By working from the traditional and cultural strengths of our diverse community, we aim to build-up lasting skills.
We run a clothing retail store, onsite manufacturing and sewing school in Newtown, Sydney.
By working with fashion and community partners to create our clothing collections, we support refugees and new migrants to gain vital skills and work experience, develop social connections and feel empowered to transform their lives.
70% of our activities go into running our store and workroom, where we provide employment opportunities for refugees and new migrants in ethical clothing manufacturing and retailing. 30% of our work goes towards running free training and education programs that expand social connections and provide positive experiences for refugees and new migrants.
"We support refugees and new migrants to gain vital skills and work experience, develop social connections and feel empowered to transform their lives."
No. 2 —
How did this collaboration come to be? How did you find Matt’s work?
Jackie: I’ve personally known of Matt’s work for many years. I’m a huge comics fan, and his anthology about Cabramatta was one of the first Sydney comics I bought when I first moved here. I’ve used his comics for programs with young people, and I’m inspired by his talent.
At The Social Outfit, the team has also long admired Matt Huynh’s amazing body of work – especially his distinctive illustrations and ability to tell stories through artworks. This includes significant artworks that evocatively show the complexity of people’s refugee and new migrant experiences across the world.
So, we reached out to Matt to explain how much we respected his work, and how much we’d like to collaborate. It was fabulous when he said yes – partnerships like this showcase the talent of our communities, and directly help us to engage with wider audiences.
No. 3 —
What were the steps behind developing the ‘Dragons’ print for The Social Outfit?
Matt: I was inspired by ancient Chinese star maps, the oldest of any civilization. These were medieval manuscripts found in caves off the Silk Road, made with mulberry fibers, painted with ink, but looking to constellations in the heavens. I loved the idea of capturing something impossibly heavenly with our earthy limitations, as well as the belief of ordinary events being reflected in the stars. My painting depicts the Azure Dragon of the East with calligraphic brush and sumi-e ink. Jessica Lee Parker at the Social Outfit incorporated some of my additional brushwork textures and inverted the line work into starry white for the final pattern design.
"I loved the idea of capturing something impossibly heavenly with our earthy limitations, as well as the belief of ordinary events being reflected in the stars."
NO. 4 –
Can you talk to us a bit about the process behind actually creating the garments, and who creates them!
Jackie: All of our garments are cut and sewn from our Newtown workroom. Our Sewing Technicians—all of whom come from a refugee and new migrant background—manufacture the whole product. Customers can see our team working when they visit in store. We’re incredibly proud of the distinctive fashion pieces we get to make, and the care with which we take to make sure everything is of high quality. It’s a team effort!
The silk showcasing Matt’s amazing print is digitally-printed locally too, and the design is just with us as part of the collaboration. This makes these pieces a special, exclusive garment for our customers. And with every sale, all the money is channeled back into our work directly – to help us build our capacity to employ and train more people. You can see our impact to date here.
No. 5 —