by Markus Kather
For two weeks the temporary concept store of the Berlin-Neukölln based fashion network NEMONA presented an overview of contemporary design scene in one of Berlin’s most diverse neighbourhoods. Two weeks that will have a sustainable impact on local networks and economy.
The NEMONA fashion network, established in 2011, is based on the district’s very own resources: the presence of young, creative designers as well as people with sewing and tailoring capabilities, many of them migrant women. By connecting these two groups the fashion network generates income and employment possibilities for both groups as well social cohesion in a district that is notorious for its tensions.
Many of the designers are producing in formerly vacant shops around Weserstraße or Reuterstraße that they turned into workshops. They are selling their clothes there or online but most of them never had a broader platform. Another effect is that there occurs only very limited exchange with the other designers.
The Concept Store aimed at changing that. It created a temporary platform for increasing the visibility of the Neukölln fashion design industry and helped to further build up ties between the designers. A two week sale combined with events ensured lots of press and helped raising money for the designers to take on new steps.
What’s striking about these two weeks is the learning process that happened. I talked to Daniela and Sabine, the two coordinators of NEMONA, visited the concept store and learned quite a lot myself. The designers come from very different backgrounds, possess different capabilities, differing degrees of professionalization and they are on various stages of their business. Working together closely for a couple of weeks and getting coaching by some people who think in business and urban development dimensions gave them relevant input and – for some of the designers – changed their view on business.
For some, selling went better than they ever expected while some of the designers didn’t sell much – but in the end it’s not only profit that counts but reflecting your work and interacting with clients and other professionals.
The learning process ranges from pure selling (client/salesperson relationship), to marketing (learning about positioning and presenting your work in the shop as well as raising attention e.g. in social media), to the exchange of practical knowledge. An example: one designer sold a peace that was returned a few days later because there occurred a problem with the material – so the other designer who was with him in the shop at that time and who technically was really experienced, took him aside and said “let me show you, have you ever tried doing it like this…” That’s the kind of learning process that can’t be taught in (business) school. It’s about exchanging tacit knowledge, and therefore you’ll need trust. Trust doesn’t come from bumping into someone once – it develops in stable networks, it comes from sharing a story like standing in a store for hours, talking about your work, your life, sharing problems as well as ideas.
In this sense building up networks in Neukölln means building infrastructure. It is exactly as important as physical infrastructure, roads, streetlights, public transport – even though its hard for many people to acknowledge that.
The relations and ties among the designers and other creative workers in the district and the learning process that arises from them are creating the “local buzz”. This is the innovative environment that fosters new ideas and serves as foundation for the creative and knowledge economy in Neukölln. In that way the “creative Neukölln” can be more than an image but create real income and living opportunities for real people living here, like designers, sewers, and tailors.