Progetto Quid: scaling impact to foster inclusive employment

The day I met Anna, is the day my stubborn belief in people as changemakers got birth. Anna has become an icon to me and to the many people I’ve been telling about her. In case you didn’t hear me about Anna yet: this woman started a great social enterprise out of nothing. A mission and guts is what she used to get started. A 10 years ago, Anna was struck by the lack of circular solutions in fashion industry and by the lack of empowerment possibilities for vulnerable people. So she just started… she arranged herself a place to work, some sewing machines and she convinced some textile producers to give her their textile wastes. And voilà: Progetto Quid started an impactful journey that needs to be told. The world should know!

Today, Progetto Quid is an ethical and sustainable fashion brand that creates limited-edition collections of clothes and accessories. The team runs a workshop in Verona with 150 employees, recovering and regenerating otherwise wasted high-quality textiles from prestigious fashion brands. The beautiful collections are manufactured by people — mostly women — with vulnerable pasts, who find in Quid a new beginning.

Having guts and daring to involve stakeholders is definitely what brought Anna and her team so far. What do you do when you need a place to sell your clothes? You convince a brand to collaborate and to get a corner in their shops. Anna managed to set up a collaboration with Calzedonia, so that in the beginning, they got a corner in Calzedonia shops or could hire space in a vacant Calzedonia store. Now, Progetto Quid has several own stores. In Italy, customers still prefer buying in person. In lockdown the webshop suddenly became overloaded because of the face masks (nice to know: the Belgian social enterprise Rising You ordered 5.000 face masks and sells them in a 1-to-1 formula: for each face mask sold, they give a free face mask to a refugee).

While gaining more maturity as a business, everything got designed around a circular impact programme. Quid takes it seriously. First of all, it is about empowering people. Progetto Quid for instance hired and trained 8 victims of human trafficking, working with them on their creative expression and re-building and strengthening their own identity and confidence.

The ultimate goal of Progetto Quid is to re-design the social landscape in Italy; to make tradition (what fashion is about) a tool for positive change. As Valeria Valotto, staff member at Quid, explains: “Fashion does not only change people but it also changes the world. The way we deal with fashion affects culture a lot. In Northern Italy a lot of people from previous generations were working in fashion related sectors: production of textiles, garmenting,… my grandfather for example worked in a mill for silk production”  “The idea is to foster a culture for inclusive employment. We want to change the fashion industry and show that like other entrepreneurs we can turn limits into starting points. Our fashion starts where it ends for others (textile waste)”

When I asked Valeria about how they increase their impact, she immediately came up with a variety in strategies.

At first, there are several UPSCALING strategies: more sales, more employees… While scaling up, there is always attention for increasing the impact. Valeria: “We measure our impact by assessing the improvement of the life quality of the employees. 75% of the employees is interviewed every year and results of these interviews are used to re-design and improve the social and training programmes. Progetto Quid exists because of the impact it wants to have, so this way of steering on impact is key to us”

The B-to-B collaborations are also considered to be very important. Valeria: “Quid makes ethical supplies for other businesses. Sometimes this collaboration is for marketing reasons (social washing…), sometimes a personal reason (e.g. a manager that has an orphanage background).” Valeria tells me that she often reveils that there is a personal link with disability, exclusion,… that drives managers to a collaboration with their social enterprise. Valeria calls it ‘the empathy link’ and tells me how beautiful it is what empathy makes you do: “the border between empathy and selfishness is thin”

Quid also works with the CEO’s and production managers in fashion industry and experiences how they get contaminated. Valeria: “We believe that we make them think different about their processes”. These kind of partnerships are very often designed in ‘article 14’, an Italian legal device that fosters inclusive employment. Companies from a certain size have to hire an amount of disabled people. Upto 30% of their disability quota can be contracted to a social enterprise. For instance, Calzedonia is the factual employer of 20 progetto Quid team members with disabilities.

While building all this experience and gaining all these insights, Quid considers knowledge sharing to be very important. Valeria: “We work with schools, we host a 15 company visits per year, we give talks in companies and universities and we support students who work on sustainable fashion”. Quid even dedicated an outreach officer to these topics. Also in other ways, Quid is an inspiring example of how to SCALE OUT (making your impact transferrable). Quid wants to help other social enterprises to build their impact faster by being able to rely on tools that Quid developed. Quid is also working on knowledge sharing workshops for managers in the profit sector looking for ways to work on inclusion, e.g. building another attitude towards inclusion.

Dear people: let’s all have faith and let’s spread faith. It is possible to change the world for the better. Become an ‘Anna’ or a ‘Valeria’ too: go for your mission, stick to your impact and dare to increase this impact.

And next time, I will tell you about the wonderful Soraya Wancour, founder of Studio AMA and definitely the social circular pioneer in the Belgian fashion industry.

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