Image: Inside Quid’s Verona workshop, Credit: Quid
At the inaugural digital edition of the Green Carpet Fashion Awards, social enterprise Quid received the Responsible Disruption award for its work in championing inclusive employment in the Italian fashion value chain. Founder Anna Fiscale tells us more.
Thanks to years of sartorial tradition, the words ’Made in Italy,’ have long evoked ideals of quality and craftsmanship. Yet for social enterprise Quid, Italian fashion means so much more than beautiful fabrics, artisan skill and inimitable design. The potential of clothing goes beyond empowering those who wear it, becoming a transformative opportunity for those who make it too.
Founded in 2013 by Anna Fiscale, Quid has set out to turn use the country’s high fashion heritage as an opportunity to champion inclusivity in the Italian labour market. The enterprise creates employment opportunities in designing, producing and distributing collections, prioritising workers from vulnerable backgrounds such as victims of human trafficking, migrant workers, and the long-term unemployed. Its 150-strong workforce is mostly female and comes from 16 different countries, working across three workshops in Verona. Here, the planet is kept in consideration too; clothes are produced from excess fabric, from a large network of predominantly Italian mills.
“We transform societal challenges into opportunities for sustainable growth,” explains Fiscale, encapsulating just how, when the pandemic took hold in Italy earlier this year, Quid rose to the task and reconverted their production to reusable and re-washable protective face masks. “Our collections come to life where the fashion supply chain would otherwise end, and where the labour market discriminates, we cultivate talent and foster a culture of inclusive employment.”
Having re-envisioned ‘Made in Italy’ as a mantra for equality, Quid has recieved the CNMI Responsible Disruption award at this year’s Green Carpet Fashion Awards ceremony. We spoke to Fiscale about the motivations behind her work, and why she believes in the transformative power of fashion as a way to create inclusive, meaningful relationships.
Can you tell me a little bit about both Quid, the social enterprise, and Progetto Quid, your clothing label?
We’re a young Italian social enterprise reinterpreting fashion, a century-long tradition in our country and region, as a tool for disruptive change in a hardly inclusive labour market. Our collections are made of quality excess fabric that would otherwise end up unused, and through these collections we create jobs for those most at risk of social exclusion in our country, especially women.
We believe in long-term labour inclusion and invest in mid to long-term training programmes for vulnerable employees in all our departments, from our patternmaking and production unit to our offices and stores. In its three workshops in Verona, Quid designs and manufactures both Progetto Quid’s own limited-edition fashion line, as well as ethical capsule collections for brands, large and small, that join forces with us to turn fashion’s limits into a starting point for creating shared value.
What does winning at this year’s Green Carpet Fashion Awards mean to you?
For me, this award is a tribute to collaborative fashion. It’s a testament to the grit, energy and vision of both our team and partners. Without them, Quid would have remained just another brilliant idea. We are all winners because we’ve truly engaged in a difficult challenge and together have overcome seemingly unsurmountable hindrances; we’ve overcome cultural, language, design and price barriers. What has motivated us and what keeps going is the belief that fashion’s transformative power can be a force for social change, and through design and beauty we can, gently, disrupt the system.
What lead you to believe that fashion could be a tool for social empowerment?
Fashion’s transformative power. Fashion transforms those who wear it – this is obvious. Beyond the surface, however, fashion transforms deeply and permanently those who make it. This transformation can be for better and for worse. Nowadays we’re often exposed to fashion’s negative externalities, from natural disasters to modern slavery. However, in Quid we believe that fashion can be an agent of gentle disruption in the lives of those who create it. Design is a means of expression, it bridges the gap between the inside and the outside. Sewing and milling are creative processes, they connect the hands, hearts, mind, and feet. Sealing deals, partnerships and sales is a relationship process, where fairness and mutual understanding support rather than hinder trade. Fashion connects one to oneself and to others, and that’s why it’s a tool for social change.
What current social problems is Italy facing, and how does Quid help to provide a solution? Why did you decide to focus on offering employment opportunities to women who might have otherwise been excluded from the job market, due to a disability, a vulnerable past, or coming from a marginalised community?
Italy’s labour market is one of the least inclusive in Europe. In 2019, only 31.3% of Italy’s disabled workforce were in employment, and only 61% of migrant workers. When we look at the gender breakdown for these figures, they halve. These are just two groups that are discriminated against but there are many more hidden soft spots in the job market, such as young people not in employment nor in training, single parents, and the senior workforce. For some groups there are employment incentives in place, but for other there are not. The post-pandemic recession will only deepen such inequalities and make the labour market even less accessible.
Labour exclusion is not only an economic loss for everyone and a catalyser of inequalities, it is first and utmost a waste of talent and creativity. Labour and work, just like fashion, can either alienate us or help to create meaningful relationships. We offer more than a job, we offer an inclusive workplace to cultivate diverse talents, through fashion.
How do you source the raw materials for Progetto Quid designs?
We source our raw materials thanks to a network of over 50 fabric mills, printers and brands across Italy’s historical fashion districts, from Como to Carpi, from Biella to Vicenza. Some partners donate the excess fabric they are not able to use up, some others sell their surplus for a symbolic price. Since 2014, we have recovered over 800 km of fabric which we have transformed into limited edition capsule collections. 90% of the fabric we’ve used in 2020 was sourced in Italy, 40% from beautiful Como, and 10% from neighbouring countries such as Spain and Croatia. Our beauty treads light-footed on the supply chain.
Can you share the story of a particular employee, who represents the reason why Quid does the work it does?
I would like to share the story of a young woman who joined us two years ago. She’s Italian, comes from a middle-class background and used to be a small business owner and an entrepreneur. When her relationship went through a rough patch and eventually came to an end, she started experiencing serious mental health issues that developed into a certified disability. This was a difficult journey for her – it would be difficult for anyone, and this could be anyone’s story – but it was also a journey towards resilience. She had initially planned to join Quid temporarily; she joined the pattern-making team two years ago and has since progressed to coordinator of the accessory quality control unit. She also represents her colleagues in our Board and acts as public spokesperson for Quid at events. In the meantime, she’s gone back to her jewellery business, and some of her work is on display in our stores.
How is Quid currently working with Italian brands?
We have been a collaborative brand since the very beginning of our history. We partner with fashion and lifestyle brands big and small, from Ikea to Zalando, developing ethical ‘Made in Italy’ collections of both accessories and garments. This collaborative process sparks mutual learning and inspiration. Our young team has learned a lot from the product managers and buyers we’ve worked with and likewise we’ve held dissemination and outreach events a tour partners’ HQs to raise awareness about inclusivity and diversity.
In addition to one-off partnerships with many brands we work within the so-called Art.14 framework agreement: as a social enterprise we’re able to hire a certain percentage of the protected workforce companies are requested by law to hire, provided there is a commercial agreement in place between us and the mother company. In this way, together, we truly make the difference for a more inclusive labour market.
You recently worked in a collective of eight designers including Henrik Vibskov and Mother of Pearl to create Zalando’s ‘Small steps. Big impact’ capsule collection. How did you find the design process, and do you thinking working collaboratively like this could help nurture more creative approaches to fashion and sustainability?
Our first collaboration with Zalando for SS20 was filled with daring kindness: bold colours but classic shapes, a highly creative yet romantic styling and no models but real women instead. The photoshoot was held on our premises and featured a handful of lucky colleagues of ours.
We loved it so much that we gave the collaboration a second go this year. With this collection we raised the bar and made it even more sustainable, cherry-picking those fabrics in our warehouse that are not just beautiful but made of sustainably sourced fibres too. Here, the design challenge resides in being able to create fashion collections in step with our own style as well as with current trends while sourcing enough recovered fabrics to cover both samplings and production.
The fabrics were then transformed into a limited edition collection, that has been collaboratively developed with the team at Zalando. It is inspired by nature’s spontaneous beauty and delicate wildness, to brighten up our winter.
What does the term ‘Made it Italy’ represent for you?
For me ‘Made in Italy’ represents a tradition that does not fear innovation and the beauty of simplicity. I am proud to be a social entrepreneur in a field that is part of our heritage and history, and I am equally proud to be working with partners who have a century-long tradition. At the same time, many of our trainers in the production unit are senior seamstresses who have been laid off during the 2011 recession. They teach a young, diverse new generation of Italians something they’ve learned from their grandmothers. In Quid and in ‘Made in Italy’, tradition and innovation go hand by hand.
If you had one piece of advice for consumers or upcoming designers looking to adopt a more sustainable approach to fashion, what would it be?
I would encourage them to look at the big picture. What makes fashion sustainable is a number of factors and sustainability has many facets. We cannot only look at raw materials or the welfare of the garment workers; we have to aim higher and find ways to integrate social and environmental sustainability. And to do so, we need to connect and collaborate, as fashion professionals as well as consumers. Only by taking into account everyone’s perspective can we build a future that is truly sustainable.