By Caspar Lundsgaard-Hansen & Renard Teipelke
In our last article, we introduced NEMONA – a prime example of local network initiatives in sustainable urban development with a thematic focus on the fashion production in Berlin. In order to gain further insight into this model project, we asked Daniela Fleig and Sabine Hülsebus, both project managers at NEMONA, to explain the project regarding urban issues like neighbourhood regeneration, community participation in northern Neukölln and local economic development.
Interviewer (I): NEMONA is located in Berlin Neukölln. Why have you started this project in this district?
NEMONA (N): Since 2008, there had been a fashion network that kind of helped to path the way for the more organized networking that started this year with NEMONA. It was also important that the CIMON study (report on: “cluster initiative fashion and sewing”) showed which potentials have already existed in Neukölln with respect to mostly immigrant women that know various sewing techniques.
I: But if we look at other districts like Kreuzberg and Wedding, the network could have also emerged somewhere else?
N: Not really…with regard to the political support, the department of business development in the district government of Neukölln has been standing behind the fashion networking initiative early on and really helped to open the doors to relevant stakeholders. You could say that officials in Neukölln do actually understand the role NEMONA can play in such a problem-ridden district.
I: Thinking about NEMONA as a contribution to urban regeneration in the northern part of Neukölln, what is the role the network plays?
N: From the reactions by other groups and organizations in the district, we can say that NEMONA is already playing an important role. In a district where you have so many challenges, people are happy to see projects with new ideas. But it also important to show that our fashion network is for a specific industry as well as for this district. It does not stand for solely luxurious fashion, but will make a relevant contribution to the district by showing and supporting the creation of new long-term job opportunities.
I: And how do you reach out to people with a fashion or sewing expertise?
N: One can hardly underscore how important multipliers as ambassadors and connectors are in our network. While the fashion network had a precursor since 2008, the networking into the particular culture of the district in order to reach out to women with sewing expertise is much more challenging.
I: This is where the multipliers become an essential intermediary in your work?
N: Right. Because you should not forget that there are real obstacles you have to overcome. Let it be the language, the knowledge of the community, an understanding of Turkish or Arab traditions. We are lucky to have a few multipliers that can overcome these obstacles, because they are female Muslims and have close ties to other women as they are mothers and very well know the sewing industry.
I: What, then, is the most important feature for establishing this network and reaching out to people?
N: It is – without any doubt – the confidence we have in each other. We can trust each other and this really helps to base this network on a basis that can prospectively last longer than the project‘s funding term.
I: What have been the biggest challenges so far?
N: The application for the corresponding funding scheme. The major problem lies in the relatively stark structure of these schemes. It cost us six months to explain and convince the administrators at the EU level that our project and the networking will have a broad impact on the socioeconomic situation in Northern Neukölln. Those were six unpaid months…
I: Could a newcomer to these EU funding schemes successfully establish such a network?
N: No. There is no real chance that a person would successfully apply with such an unconventional project as we have. The administrators have an eye on the experience of the applicant, because the project management is a time-consuming, challenging task – before the project starts and during the whole implementation period.
I: What have been the biggest surprises in the project so far?
N: We were extremely happy by one of our network member’s compliment. This woman told us that our work is a real motivation boost to her own work and encourages her to pursue her goals in the relatively tough fashion industry. Most self-employed designers share the same problems of having a lot of work and being in a rather tense financial situation all the time. But the exchange between the network members helps them to share ideas and to openly talk about the challenges they are all facing.
Another positive surprise was the first Neukölln showroom for the Berlin Fashionweek in July this year. Actually, we planned our initial participation for next year, but then members came to us and asked if we could organize such a showroom already this year. So we put all of our manpower together and realized the really first Neukölln showroom ever – a real benchmark in our still young project.
I: One major objective of NEMONA is to strengthen the local economy in the long term. Could you explain how the network can realize this goal?
N: As a network for fashion designers and sewers, we understand ourselves as a kind of lobbyist for their issues. This means that we have gradually begun to put important issues on the agenda, such as working-time models in this industry, minimum wage, types of cooperation and joint ventures.
I: Could you extend a little bit on this?
N: Yes, the major challenge is that a permanent employment is the declared first objective in economic politics – however, we have to discuss what other options are there to pull fashion designers and sewers out of unemployment. And then, you will understand that other forms of part-time or project-limited employment are more realistic. Self-employment is also an option. It is about taking a certain risk, but also accepting an only temporary solution to unemployment. The existing job policies in Germany are not made for these intermediary options. In the best case, we can advocate new working models to be tested here in the district.
I: For the time now, what is the major argument for prospective network members to join NEMONA and to install their office or their work shop in Neukölln?
N: We are aiming at positioning this fashion and sewing network as a kind of brand in the district as well as in the city. And we have several arguments that support our mission: It is the vicinity of fashion designers, sewers, and producers in Northern Neukölln. This really means that sustainable value creation chains can be established. Quality control becomes easier. We explain ecologically sustainable cloth production to customers. Furthermore, with the immigrant women well-trained in very specific sewing techniques, designers and producers can find a local potential that is waiting to be tapped.
I: Besides being a platform for the exchange of ideas, what else has NEMONA to offer?
N: Through the EU funding scheme, we can currently offer PR services to our members for which they would normally have to pay an agency. We all pull together and can deal with the challenges of the district as well as the fashion industry.
I: NEMONA after 2013 – what is your vision?
N: There are so many ideas for the future. It is really hard to tell what will happen to the network – which form, structure, and role it will have after the funding term ends. We would say that NEMONA grows with its projects thus letting the future development open to many different paths.
This article is the second out of three articles this week that will present NEMONA and discuss various topics with respect to network initiatives on the local level. Read the first article here and the third article here.