Quid project builds upon a unique synergy between creativity, social and market values, and respect for the environment. Quid was founded in 2013 with the strong idea to build a project in Verona, in order to offer employment to disadvantaged and marginalized people through the creation of fashion products and through the recovery of high-quality textile waste materials. After that their strategy has shifted in order to become exclusive ethical partners of Italian fashion companies. Other than their independent collection, today their creative team develops garments and accessories collections in synergy with the style and product departments of the partner companies. In 2014 Quid project won the prestigious award for social innovation organized by the European Commission among 1,250 participants. Interested in learning where does QUID social innovation stand?
In the interview that follows, you will find out how they succeeded.
Intro question: What is the social innovation Progetto Quid about?
Progetto Quid is an ethical fashion brand created by Cooperativa Quid, an Italian social cooperative that offers employment opportunities to vulnerable social groups. Cooperativa Quid focuses on the employment of individuals, mainly women, who encounter obstacles in accessing the job market due to personal vulnerabilities or to social stigma: people who have disabilities (physical or mental), who have struggled with alcoholism or addiction, inmates and former inmates, women who’ve been victims of violence, of human trafficking and asylum seekers. Quid workers are employed in the production of ethical fashion products that are designed internally by our own design team and then sold through multiple distribution channels: on one hand Quid produces its own “Progetto Quid” collections, that are sold in Progetto Quid stores, online and in over 90 multibrand store, on the other Quid creates co-branded products for other brands that then distribute them in their own distribution channels.
Why did you (or your partners) start this social innovation?
Anna Fiscale, Quid’s president and founder, decided to start this project after finishing her studies, during which she focused on economics and international relations and also dedicated time to topics such as microcredit and women empowerment, also during her first work experiences as an intern in Haiti, India and Brussels. Ever since she was younger Anna really felt she wanted to create a project that could support women and empower those who are victims of exclusion in society and on the job market, and she realized how she could connect this mission to one of Italy’s most important markets and production sectors, which is fashion, creating social value while giving an innovative and ethical twist to the fashion sector. That is how she came up with the idea of Progetto Quid, a brand that at once connects social value, creativity, market principles, the quality of Made in Italy and also proves that there are innovative and ethical ways of being on the market, especially in the fashion sector, that is one of the most polluting and unfair industries in the world.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
The idea came primarily as a consequence of the founder’s personal and academic experience, as she has always dedicated her time to social issues doing voluntary work through all her studies. Nevertheless, the idea of Progetto Quid as a whole was the result of the contribution of a young team of people, all with the motivation to enter the job market without giving up on having a social impact in their own territory.
Informally this led to a collaborative process, in which all members of the team contributed with their knowledge, experience, networks and passion, finally leading to the development of the social cooperative and the fashion brand that is now the means for Quid to keep expanding its impact.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
At the beginning the greatest difficulty, rather than the greatest fear, was that of presenting Quid as a credible actor and a stakeholder that other organizations and brands would consider as a possible partner. This was because Quid’s team was made up by a group of very young members, some of which had just finished university, thus with little to no work experience at all. Dedication, time and high professionalism in spite of the young age lead important local businesses to give Quid a chance, slowly creating a network of partners and supporters. In fact, after the first few collaborations with renown fashion companies and other key organizations, Quid gained credibility that supported the further expansion of its activity and thus contributed to the creation of greater impact on the territory.
What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?).
The first efforts were put in by the already mentioned young group of people who dedicated their spare time to the project in order to get it going when it still hadn’t set up the commercial activity, and thus was nowhere near being financially sustainable. Further on one person in the team, supported by a part-time fund raiser, started moving the first steps towards raising funds for the project to set its foundation in a more solid manner. The first funds were employed to pay the first workers, buy the technical instruments and to cover the first basic expenses. When Progetto Quid products started selling, the cooperative was able to pave the way towards financial sustainability, partially covering expenses with its own income and covering the rest with funds raised thanks to local foundations and national or international prizes.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
Ever since it was founded Quid has always been extremely dedicated to the creation of a network with local and international organizations, NGOs and academic institutions. The public attention was attracted through this very network and also by getting in contact with relevant organizations in person, creating a long-term collaboration a little at a time. Over time Quid has also managed in many occasions to appear on local or national press, thanks to the activity and effort put in by the communication and institutional relations teams.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
The beneficiaries, the people who struggle with personal and social vulnerabilities that find employment in Quid, can be considered the “main” users of the project.
To make sure the idea fits the needs, Quid has always been committed to keep in contact and collaborate with the organizations that first offered support to the vulnerable workers that Quid employs. These organizations usually are the social services, NGOs that support victims of violence or of human trafficking, rehabilitation centers for addicts and many others; such organizations, with whom Quid has created a strong network through which it identifies its workers, always remain in contact with Quid also after the individuals have gone through the employment process, as they usually continue to support the individuals on issues that aren’t work-related. In this way Quid receives feedback on each person’s experience and, to a certain extent, has also had the chance to tailor the work inclusion programmes according to the needs of the workers.
How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DYI fundraising?
The money, as already mentioned, has been raised through participation in local, national or international prizes and competitions, as well as through requests directed to local and national foundations. The advice we believe might be useful for others is to recognize that fundraising is an activity that shouldn’t be regarded lightly, it requires a substantial effort and in too many occasions is regarded as a side activity that can be dealt with in one’s spare time. At the same time a project that can last must forecast a moment in the mid to long-term future when fundraising isn’t a main channel for financial sustainability and instead slowly disappears. With this perspective, the main suggestion we can give is that of structuring a solid business plan that includes a means of subsistence that relies on the projects income rather than on external philanthropy.
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
Quid managed to scale thanks to the network it was able to create on the local as well as national level, not only with other non-profit organizations and NGOs, but also with for profit companies and other fashion brands.
The network with NGOs and non-profits has been essential as it is through this network that the project has been able to learn from other social projects on the territory, understanding what true needs there are and on which it can direct its own activity without duplicating something that already exists. At the same time this network is proving crucial in developing further, connecting with others and creating greater impact through these very collaborations.
With regards to the for profit companies and the other fashion brands, such players prove relevant for Quid as a consequence of its intention of creating more awareness on the issues raised by the new-born ethical fashion sector; the realization of these brands of the latest consumers’ needs, who are asking companies to implement more responsible production patterns as they become more and more prone to responsible consumption their selves, have led many brands to start collaborating with Quid or at least to start getting to know us. The expansion of the number of collaborations that has come as a consequence of this market shift, has led the Cooperative to greater production volumes, thus sustaining the increase in number of people that the cooperative can employ.
How do you change the whole system?
If only we knew! Quid’s belief is that the only way to start thinking of changing the whole system is to make sure that all stakeholders collaborate, creating a fruitful dialogue of all actors involved and to a certain extent also those that don’t initially appear as actual stakeholders. This means the policy makers, the NGOs, the welfare sector, businesses, international networks and the civil society in its entirety. This is no news but for anyone who attempts to start a social project it must be the first thought, understanding how such collaborations must be the base of every step.
What is the one advice you can give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, with only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
Make the most of your own personal experience and knowledge but never forget to share your idea and to ask for suggestions, feedback, advice, even criticism, as that is the only way to start understanding if your project has solid legs to stand on. Create a strong team you trust and that can contribute with different inputs, knowledge and experience, no social project that lasted is a one-man show. And good luck!
Interviewed by Maja Novak
Giulia Houston (http://progettoquid.it/, @Progettoquid, ProgettoQUID) completed a diploma in classical studies and a BA degree in Sociology at Trento University. As a half foreigner in Italy, she taught English during her studies and hence developed a keen interest in intercultural development and cooperation. Before joining QUID Giulia coordinated educational plans for an Italian fashion communication institute. She now manages QUID’s institutional relations and partnerships and has a deep interest in social innovation and sustainable development.
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