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How Makers Unite helps newcomers through fashion

Sustainability & ImpactCreativity & Culture

We’re proud to announce our long-term collaboration with Makers Unite to create sustainable textile products for our shops, and support creative talents with a migration background. Together with VICE, we had a chat with founder Thami Schweichler and partnership manager Lotje Beernink to learn more about their vision.

The Social Hub is committed to creating a better society by putting social and environmental impact first. Today, we’re proud to announce the start of our collaboration with Makers Unite, a social enterprise on a mission to train and support talented creative ‘newcomers’ that have migrated to the Netherlands.

As an official partner, Makers Unite will now supply all textile items of the ‘Better Wear’ collection for The Social Hub's shops across all 16 locations, as well as teamwear for more than 800 employees across Europe. With an order of more than 30,000 items – the largest to date – this collaboration has allowed Makers Unite to take the next step on their ambitious journey: setting up a new atelier in Istanbul.

Together with VICE, we had a chat with Makers Unite’s founder Thami Schweichler and partnership manager Lotje Beernink to learn more about their community, which is driven by diversity, endorsing a shared vision of a more inclusive society for all.

VICE: How did Makers Unite get started? 

Thami Schweichler: We actually started at this very place, at The Social Hub Amsterdam City – which was still called The Student Hotel back then. We started out as an activist movement. In 2016 the Syrian refugee crisis was at its peak, and that’s when we came up with the ReVest Life campaign, for which we used life vests left behind on Greek beaches by refugees, and transformed them into ribbons right here, at The Social Hub coworking space. We handed out these ribbons during the Kings Day celebrations here in the Netherlands. This led to the founding of Makers Unite. We got to know a lot of immigrants, newcomers and locals. We feel like all these people deserve new opportunities. If we can help them by making clothes, everyone benefits. 

When did Makers Unite start to feel like a community? 

From day one. We didn’t intend to start a business, but to get a message across. The campaign we did during Kings Day was out on the streets for a reason. We wanted to get out there, with people who wanted to make themselves heard. That’s when the community started to exist. Together with the collective we thought up ways to fulfil the needs of newcomers, and to involve locals in what we do.

Can you tell us a bit more about what it is that you do? 

We as an organisation not only produce products, but also run a talent development programme for newcomers from creative backgrounds - in which people are trained to start a career here in the Netherlands. Since our start in 2016 we have helped over 270 people via this programme. They are part of the greater community that’s connected to us. Our goal is not to help people find a paid job as quickly as possible, but to create a basis of trust in the network, so people can find their footing and take steps towards a sustainable job. We keep in touch with everyone who has followed our training.

What are you most proud of? 

Lotje Beernink: Every day when I’m in the workshop, I hear all these different languages: Chinese, Arabic, a little bit of Russian these days. People talk to each other in all these languages, and the best thing is: it works. Everybody trusts each other, and we all work as a team. I really love that. The moment you step into Makers Unite, you feel this warm blanket of trust wrapping around you. It’s a place where everyone can be who they want to be and show their talents. 

Thami: For me it’s seeing the progress the members of our community have made, and seeing how high the quality of their work is. For me that has to do with self-ownership. Each participants’ resilience helps them to grow their talents in these fertile grounds. 

What’s the first thing you notice when someone new comes to you for work? Is it their character or talent?

It’s all about talent, and recognition of talent. What we see is that different characters only lead to a richer team.

What’s it like to have a community this diverse? 

Lotje: It’s very dynamic and refreshing. We have lunch together. That’s a moment to look around and realise how many cultures and backgrounds are gathered at one table. When I just started here it was special for me to see how tailors who came in here as shy as they can be – some of them were on a refugee boat no more than two months ago – in a week or two really blossomed and walked around the workshop with more and more confidence. 

Thami: It’s interesting that right from the start everyone felt like they were really part of something. We need to produce a lot, and everyone understands that they are needed for that. It’s important for newcomers that they realise they are important. In our team they feel they’re part of something bigger. 

I can imagine you hear a lot of sad stories, as you’re working with people who have fled war. How do you deal with that? 

Our attitude towards their issues is that we explicitly focus on the constructive side of their story: what we can do together. What has happened in your life, is something few people can help you with. But if we work together towards the future, we can grow. That’s where our focus is: where can we go from here? Of course they can share their stories, but they know they’re here to look towards the future. 

Speaking of the future: what’s in store for this year? 

The most important step stems from a commission by The Social Hub – the largest to date. That has made a huge impact. In fact, with this order we can start production in Istanbul, with our own studio. That’s been our ambition for the past five years, because upscaling high-quality production in the Netherlands is very difficult and expensive. In the next few years, we want to start growing, together with The Social Hub and other brands that focus on sustainability. At the same time, we want to create opportunities for newcomers, not only in the Netherlands but in Turkey as well. 

Finally, what advice do you have for young people who also want to set up a collective like Makers Unite? 

Lotje: You don’t have to be afraid to work with people who come from many different backgrounds. What we are seeing here is that it works. Of course it can be challenging, but it really is an enhancement. For me it feels like my work and private life are totally intertwined, because I get so much energy from the diversity and the love that’s around me all the time, because everyone appreciates each other. The diversity of the team really adds to the business.

Thami: Make sure to keep things simple, so you can start today. Listen to your heart, that’s always good advice. What’s also good is to have a clear picture in mind of what you want to achieve, and to work as altruistically as you can. Ask yourself: how can I make the world a better place, and start doing so today? 

The ‘Better Wear’ collection by Makers Unite and The Social Hub is on sale at all The Social Hub locations. Come check it out at your local hub.

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